Sub Base Surfaces to Milestone; Navy Celebrates Kings Bay's 25th Influence Is Indelible in Community
Jackson, Gordon, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Gordon Jackson, Times-Union staff writer
KINGS BAY NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE -- A quarter-century ago, St. Marys was nicknamed Mayberry by the Sea for its sleepy, small-town atmosphere. Then 37 new residents moved to town.
Their names are forgotten by most of those living in the city in 1978. Few would disagree, however, with the significance of the role those first arrivals played at what had been an unused Army ocean terminal until the Navy acquired the site and called it Naval Submarine Support Base Kings Bay.
It wasn't until a year later that local residents realized nearly every aspect of their town and the rest of Camden County would change forever, when the Navy announced the base would be the home to 10 nuclear-powered Trident submarines planned for construction.
After 25 years at the 16,000-acre site, the Navy believes it's time to commemorate the silver anniversary at what is now known as Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, and the strong relationship the 5,400 sailors and Marines, along with 3,500 civilian workers, have with the surrounding communities.
Most civilians won't be able to participate in the main celebration on base tomorrow because of increased security, but Navy and public officials agree the base's 25th anniversary is a significant milestone in local history.
"The 25th anniversary is testimony to the fact the Navy is part of the community," said Capt. John E. Cohoon Jr., commanding officer at Kings Bay. "Our sailors, Marines and civilian workforce not only live and work here, but also take an active role in the community."
Gov. Sonny Perdue has declared tomorrow as Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay Day. He described the base as playing an "instrumental role in ending the Cold War and the charge it still keeps by defending our freedoms from the very real threats we face today."
"As governor, I recognize the positive impact Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay has had with the local community," Perdue said. "Some are Georgians by birth, some by choice, some by the order of Uncle Sam, but all are part of the Georgia family. I hope our state's hospitality and beautiful coastline makes them feel at home while they carry out their important mission."
The Navy's arrival did much more than triple the county's population from about 13,000 in 1978 to nearly 50,000 residents today, making it one of the state's fastest growing counties in Georgia during that time.
The school district has more than doubled the number of schools; dozens of new roads have been built and many existing ones have been widened; new subdivisions have been constructed; and nearly every government service has been expanded to accommodate the new growth.
Navy officials described the $1.3 billion base as the largest peacetime construction program in its history.
National Navy League President Sheila McNeill calls Kings Bay one of the Navy's "premier" bases.
"Not only have they preserved the integrity of the cities, but they preserved the environment," McNeill said. "I continue to see former sailors at Kings Bay who call it one of their best tours of duty because of the relationship with the community."
Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith said his office had 19 employees in 1978. There are now an estimated 120 employees working at the Sheriff's Office.
Despite the population explosion, Smith said his deputies have had very few problems associated with the sailors and civilian workers at Kings Bay.
"Before the Navy came, this was a very small, friendly community," Smith said. "Now it's not so small, but it's still very friendly. Law enforcement has become more complicated, but at the same time more professional. Camden County was then, and still is, a great place to call home."
Edwin Davis, assistant superintendent of Camden County schools, said the school district has added six elementary schools, built two large middle schools and has the eighth-largest high school, population wise, in the state since the Navy arrived. …