Lott to take over nuclear submarine

Published 12:42 am Monday, July 12, 2010

NATCHEZ — Former Natchez resident Ernie Lott couldn’t hold back the tears of pride as he spoke of his son’s latest achievement.

U.S. Navy Commander David “Tony” Lott, a Natchez native and Ernie Lott’s son, recently reported as the commanding officer for the USS Hampton (SSN 767), the most advanced nuclear attack submarine in the world. The change of command ceremony will be Thursday in San Diego.

“I am awful proud of my son, as any father would be,” Ernie Lott said. “I think this is a special thing. He has always been pretty special.”

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Ernie Lott, who now lives in Alexandria, is bringing his father, Natchez resident Paul L. Foster, to San Diego. Ernie Lott said his father, who was a private in the 82nd Airborne during World War II, thought being at the ceremony, as a veteran, was important.

“My dad has always been real proud of him,” Ernie Lott said. “He is 87 and this is something he wanted to do. I told him I’d be more than happy to get him out there, the best we could.”

Foster, who landed behind enemy lines at the Battle of Normandy, said watching the ceremony was going to mean a lot to him.

“It is probably going to be hard to hold back the tears,” Foster said. “I’m pretty emotional about that sort of thing.

“My grandson has put in 19 years of service. He is a true patriot.”

Lott said he would take control of the USS Hampton for approximately three years.

“Command at sea is the most coveted position in our United States Navy, and I feel very honored to have been chosen to lead the USS Hampton as her commanding officer,” Lott said. “Command is extremely rewarding and humbling, as you are completely and utterly responsible for all aspects of our 140-man crew.”

Foster said Lott was always the quiet type growing up, but that he was very dedicated to his schoolwork, which helped him become a commander.

“He was a good, brilliant, kid,” Foster said. “He was never a trouble maker.”

As a schoolteacher, Ernie Lott said he has to admit that his son stood apart from other children growing up.

“As a young boy, he always did what he was supposed to do, which was odd for a junior high, high school age boy,” Lott said. “He would always do his homework before he went out and played.

“He was always very studious, and he loved to read.”

When Lott graduated from South Natchez High School as valedictorian, he made a 34 on the ACT, but his math score was a 36, Ernie Lott said.

“With him being a nuclear engineer, knowing math kind of helps, and he was always good at it,” he said.

Foster said he was surprised when Lott told him he was going to school at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“He could have gotten a scholarship to any college in the country,” Foster said. “But he chose to go to Annapolis and graduated with merit.”

Lott almost decided against finishing at the Naval Academy after “Hell Week,” Ernie Lott said.

“After they put him through all of the rigors of ‘Hell Week,’ he called and said, ‘Daddy, I don’t know if I can make it or not,” Ernie Lott said. “I just told him that it was kind of like football — if you can stick it out for the first six weeks of practice, it gets better.

“He stuck it out, and I am really proud of him.”

Graduating from the Naval Academy isn’t easy, Ernie Lott said.

“If you check stats, usually every year there are something like 1,000 students that go to Annapolis, and only a third will make it,” Ernie Lott said. “I am really proud that he stuck it out and stayed there — things did get better for him in his military career, and he is reaping the rewards.”

Making a career out of the U.S. Navy turned out to be a simple decision, once he began his service to the country, Lott said.

“Over the years, at each decision point, it has always been an easy choice to stay in the Navy due to the many advantages, primarily among which is the great people from all across the country I have worked with,” Lott said.

“I also have enjoyed the many places I have visited over the years, and the many events I have participated in that normally would not be available to others outside the military.”

After submarine school in Groton, Conn., in 1993, Lott became the propulsion and damage control assistant aboard the USS Jacksonville, helping the crew earn a Meritorious Unit Commendation.

In 1996, Lott returned to school as an assistant professor of Naval Science at Duke University, while earning his master’s in engineering management at North Carolina State University.

After completing the submarine officer advanced course, Lott served as the engineering officer aboard the USS Tennessee, a ship that completed six deterrent patrols and was awarded the 2002 Submarine Squadron Engineering Excellence “E.”

Lott has personally been awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal five times, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal two times.

Lott has also served aboard the USS Alaska and USS Tucson, as well as filling various submarine engineer staff roles at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

He is married to Melissa Wickham Lott of Natchez, and the couple has two children, Shelby and Spencer. Foster said Melissa Lott has been supportive of Lott over the years, and the couple has a true partnership.

“She has been very dedicated to him over the years,” Foster said. “They have been all over the world together.”