USS Hartford commander follows family tradition of service to country

Matthew Fanning is a lesson in determination, persistence and leadership: Fanning didn’t enter the Naval Academy straight out of high school as he’d planned. But still, he got there, and today he’s the new commander of the USS Hartford.

Commander Fanning took charge of the Los Angeles class, fast-attack submarine, USS Hartford during a change of command ceremony held aboard the submarine in its homeport, Naval Submarine Base New London, on Aug. 5, relieving the previous commander, Thomas Aydt.

Fanning, 40, grew up in Bridgeport and attended high school in Trumbull, but he spent most of his weekends and large portions of his summers in Milford before his parents moved to Milford when he was a teenager.

“My grandfather settled there after WWII and ‘Sunday Dinner’ was always an event,” Fanning said. “My father was a Bridgeport fireman for a number of years, but shortly after starting high school my parents bought a house in Milford.”

Fanning attended Saint Joseph's High School in Trumbull and graduated in 1994.

He started at the Naval Academy after successfully completing a course of study at The Gunnery in the summer of 1995.

“When I did not earn admission to the United States Naval Academy during my senior year [of high school], I was given an opportunity to attend a preparatory school on a Naval Academy Foundation Scholarship,” Fanning explained. “The Naval Academy Foundation provides scholarships to otherwise qualified candidates to give them a second chance on gaining admission. I elected to use that scholarship rather than attend college and spent a post-graduate year at The Gunnery School in Washington, Ct.”

Fanning always wanted to serve his country. Most of his family served as enlisted members of various services and he knew he wanted to go to college and serve.

He credits his grandfathers most with inspiring him to join the service.

“As with many in their generation, they served in WWII, and while I didn't get the opportunity to know my father's father well before he passed away, I knew my other grandfather very well,” Fanning said. “The stories he told and the camaraderie he described were large factors in my decision to enter the service. I never thought I would remain on active duty this long, but the sailors I have served with made the decision to stay easier.”

Initially, he dreamed of being a Marine. But when he entered the Naval Academy, he had an opportunity to look at each community within the Navy and Marine Corps and make an informed choice.

“All of the Navy and Marine Corps missions are important and it was difficult to choose where I would fit best,” Fanning said. “In the end, I chose the people over the job. I felt ‘at home’ with the sailors on the submarine I rode and wanted to be part of that.

“I have never regretted that choice,” he continued. “I often tell sailors and midshipmen that the people with whom you serve are the most important factor in your happiness. I have continued in my service to be around the sailors of the submarine force and am amazed at the work we get to do together.”

Fanning’s wife and daughters attended the ceremony during which he became the new commanding officer of the USS Hartford. His mother and father were there too, as were his brother and as much extended family as would fit. Several shipmates he served with in the past attended also.

“It seems like such a short time ago when I watched my first commanding officer get relieved at a similar ceremony,” Fanning said. “The responsibility to lead and serve my crew felt like a tangible thing as I crossed the threshold and heard the ‘stinger’ sound. The ‘stinger’ is the last single bell strike that is rung for a senior officer in the chain of command of a vessel. Seeing my crew there on the pier and knowing the hard work and sacrifices we will make together filled me with a tremendous amount of pride and a good dose of humility.”

Much of his job as commander revolves around training: Training his crew and himself to take the ship to sea and be ready to deploy whenever and wherever the country needs them to go.

“These are often long days in port performing maintenance to keep the ship ready or in simulators and training centers testing our skills,” he said.

The work only changes in scope as the ship goes to sea to increase proficiency, teach and qualify new crew members.

“My job as the commanding officer is to work with my Chief of the Boat and senior officers to develop plans that enable learning and ultimately to certify them to deploy overseas,” Fanning said. “A submarine performs a wide array of missions and the skills required to be successful do not come easy.

“A submarine is a warship,” he added. “My job is to make sure my crew is ready when called upon.”

Fanning said the crew of the USS Hartford has repeatedly proven its ability to overcome challenges.

“They are a professional group of submariners with whom I have the honor to serve at sea,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing them make our Navy and country proud.”

Former Commander Aydt said during the change of command that he expects the USS Hartford and her crew to continue accomplishing great things.

“The story of the Hartford begins a new chapter today and I think it will be the best one yet,” said Aydt. “I have known Cmdr. Fanning for a while and I can’t think of anyone that I would rather see leading Hartford into the future.”