Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. KEY WEST deployed as a member of the CARL VINSON battle group from July through December of last year. This deployment took us to the front lines of our nation’s global war on terrorism. KEY WEST was the first warship on the scene following the attacks against our country and participated in the first seventy-five days of Operation, ENDURING FREEDOM.
I know that none of us will ever forget where we were or what we were doing when we first learned of the attacks against our country. September 11th had been a busy day on board KEY WEST. We were transiting in the Indian Ocean and had completed a full day of drills in preparation for our planned operations in the shallow water of the Arabian Gulf. We were scheduled for a port visit in Bahrain later in the week. Our sister ship PROVIDENCE had recently departed the Arabian Gulf and was en route to the Red Sea and home. The remainder of the CARL VINSON battle group was following us into Fifth fleet to relieve the ENTERPRISE battle group, which had recently departed. After our evening meal we went to periscope depth for routine communications and learned that our world had changed. Forever …
The initial messages that reported the attacks were vague airplanes had been crashed into the World Trade Center and at the time it was reported that there had been an explosion at the Pentagon. But where we needed to go was clear. We were directed to make best speed to the North Arabian Sea. As we proceeded deep and came up to flank speed I briefed my crew on what little I knew of the day’s shocking events. As you would expect, my entire crew had difficulty even beginning to imagine what had happened to our country. But I told them that we were headed where our nation needed us to be and that I knew that to the man we were ready to do whatever might be required. I had four men who were immediately concerned about family members in New York City, including one Sailor whose father was a fireman and brother a policeman. Through a combination of e-mail and messages we learned that all of my crew’s family members were OK injust a few days. Initially, it was hard not to feel like the crew of ARGONAUT that was patrolling off Midway Island nearly sixty years ago.
Fortunately, we received pictures like these via the SIPRNET a few days later that helped us to visualize what had happened. However, it was not until three weeks later when we received a video of CNN, recorded during the attacks that I put it all together. We had arrived at periscope depth that evening shortly after the first tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed.
KEY WEST arrived on station in less than a day. PROVIDENCE joined us a few days later. While we both stealthily commenced our patrols, the CARL VINSON and ENTERPRISE battle groups formed up well to the south.
Our top tasking priority was to maintain Tomahawk strike readiness, which included participation in numerous exercises and frequent updates to our tomahawk mission data library. Both submarines proved that they were ready for the real thing. As a true testament to our training, when the time came for actual combat operations, both of us performed flawlessly. Additionally, we were tasked to provide continuous Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance reporting to the battle group. Of particular concern was foreign submarine and warship activity. While I cannot go into details here, both KEY WEST and PROVIDENCE provided myriad reports to the battle group covering the full spectrum of maritime activity in the North Arabian Sea. KEY WEST maintained nearly continuous communications on multiple circuits for over two months in carrying out our tasking. We were typically up on two voice circuits, UHF and EHF and shifted between a multitude of data circuits as required.
KEY WEST worked directly for the CARL VINSON battle group for the duration of our operations in FIFTH Fleet. The key to our seamless integration into the battle group was access to the SIPRNET. SIPRNET enables instant information exchange at multiple levels. Intelligence and operations web sites were updated more frequently than message traffic. Secure e-mail could be exchanged at any time. I kept my battle group commander, Submarine Group SEVEN and my Commodore at home updated using e-mail. Information was continuously exchanged at the watchstander level in several chat rooms. Chat allowed me instant access to the Destroyer Squadron commander, the senior submariner on the battle group staff and other ship captains. On numerous occasions we were able to share information and immediately resolve issues via chat that would have taken hours via message traffic. While we still copied the broadcast for record traffic, we typically received information by way of the SIPRNET hours before it was received via the broadcast.
The reliability of today’s communications systems provides exceptional flexibility and I wanted to show a typical rapid plan and shoot STRIKE execution timeline. Around midnight local we received verbal notification of pending STRIKE tasking. An hour later we received message traffic directing missile preparation. While the missiles were made ready we copied a mission data update. Missions were verbally assigned and then executed. I was extremely proud of my crew in flawlessly executing all assigned STRIKE tasking. They were vigilant, patient and ready when it was our turn to step up to the plate.
KEY WEST performed three open ocean small boat transfers in the North Arabian Sea. These transfers with USS SACRA-MENTO and USS DETROIT enabled us to transfer personnel and receive food and repair parts. On Thanksgiving morning I performed a humanitarian transfer for one of my chief petty officers with USS INGRAHAM. This chief made it home to his family in Kentucky in less than two days. My crew approached each of these transfers as infrequent, high-risk evolutions and was totally prepared. We were fortunate to have good weather each time and were able to safely perform these transfers.
A brief stop in Bahrain before Thanksgiving enabled my crew to stretch their legs and make calls to their families before we started the long voyage home.
From the beginning I was concerned with the morale of my crew and their families. Despite the high OPTEMPO our crew’s attitude remained positive throughout the deployment. I personally felt that this was the most important thing that I had ever done for my country and therefore spent a great deal of time talking with the crew to ensure that they knew how important what we were doing was. I mailed letters out to the crew’s families and encouraged them to write home as well at every opportunity. The first letter sent off during our first small boat transfer in late September was not delivered until mid-November, but the response was amazing. I received e-mail and letters from many of the families and many of my men thanked me personally. I also kept family e-mail open for my Sailors. Every message was reviewed by two Chief Petty Officers. All told we processed over 11,000 e-mails-quite a change from the days of family grams. It took a great deal of work to keep this line of communication open, but it was well worth it. Although our routine ten-day transit turned into a 10-week war patrol, I received only two messages from the Red Cross from mothers asking about their sons-these families did not have e-mail.
KEY WEST’s deployment OPTEMPO was ninety percent. Of particular note, we steamed continuously for almost four months and had no maintenance days during our deployment. Thirty men qualified in submarines. Twenty four men re-enlisted and received over nine hundred thousand dollars in tax-free bonuses.
I will close with this picture that was taken as KEY WEST returned to a hero’s welcome at Pearl Harbor just before Christmas. It was an honor and privilege to lead this fine crew during this very challenging deployment. I was extremely proud of their exceptional performance at the tip of the spear.