Dick Brown is a member of USSVI’s Holland Club, a life member of the Navy League (New Mexico Council) and a long-time supporter of USS Albuquerque. He is also a member of the Naval Submarine League and a frequent contributor to The Submarine Review.
SS ALBUQUERQUE (SSN-706) has “gone out of business.”At a special Inactivation Ceremony on 16 October 2015 at Naval Station Point Loma, the combat veteran was taken out of service and is being defueled and scheduled for official decommissioning in early 2017.
There has been a long-standing relationship between the submarine and her namesake.It started at commissioning when then Mayor Harry Kinney offered the keys of a Phantom series Rolls-Royce to the first skipper who brought the boat up the Rio Grande for a port call in Albuquerque.By tradition, the keys have been passed along to each skipper at 13 Change of Command ceremonies; however, the fabled Rolls, elusive as a phantom, has gone unclaimed. Our submarines are quites tealthy, so one former skipper, retired CAPT Leonard Zingarelli (CO 1995-1997), posed the question, “How do you know we haven’t already done it?” It’s doubtful—the river is at most only two feet deep and has several dams so this was an impossible task and a very safe bet for the Mayor.The boat’s final CO, CDR Donald Tenney, plans to return the keys for posterity, albeit begrudgingly, to Albuquerque’s current mayor, Richard Berry.
USS ALBUQUERQUE was commissioned on 21 May 1983 as the 19thLos Angeles-class attack submarine.Initially she was home-ported in Groton, CT and was deployed many times in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. During the 1999 Kosovo conflict, her Tomahawk land-attack missiles hit 100 percent of their targets and ALBUQUERQUE be came known as Sure Shooter of the Submarine Force—which explains the10 TLAMs on her battle flag. She received a new lease on life during the period 2001-2003 when her reactor core was refueled.In 2009, ALBUQUERQUE shifted her home port to San Diego, CA, concluding the Navy’s 60/40 Pacific/Atlantic split of our Submarine Force assets.The aging battle-tested boat was deployed many times in the Pacific, doing her part in the Global War on Terrorism.All told, she built a record of superior performance, earning three Navy Unit Commendations, four Meritorious Unit Commendations and four Battle Efficiency “E” Awards.
In 1984, ALBUQUERQUE earned the Gold Dolphin Flag as all of her officers had qualified in submarines.The following year she earned the Silver Dolphin Flag for enlisted men as well as the Atlantic Fleet Golden Anchor Award for retention.
ALBUQUERQUE’s reach, as documented in the ship’s annual command histories, has been global.On her maiden deployment in 1984 she crossed the Arctic Circle, making every member of the crew a Blue Nose.In 2011, the crew became Golden Shell backs when the boat simultaneously crossed the Equator and the International Dateline.The boat has also hosted a number of Distinguished Visitors, including SECDEF Richard Cheney in 1989.Ten years later, former President George HW Bush visited the boat.Submarines were not new to the President.In September 1944, downed pilot LTjg Bush spent four weeks aboard USS FINBACK (SS-230), having been rescued after being shot down over the Pacific.The fearless WWII skipper of USS BARB (SS-220), Rear Admiral Gene Fluckey, also visited ALBUQUERQUE. Fluckey received the Congressional Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses for his phenomenal combat performance during BARB’s last five war patrols in the Pacific. On ALBUQUERQUE’s last patrol in the Pacific, she steamed over 50,000 miles—enough for two global circumnavigations, a traverse across the equator, and another opportunity to turn slimy Pollywogs into noble Shellbacks.
Rear Admiral Stuart Munsch (CO 2002-2005) served as the honored guest speaker at the Inactivation Ceremony. His inspiring talk was directed to members of ship’s company and their obligation to continue ALBUQUERQUE’s legacy as they disperse to other submarines and shore commands after decom.Munsch also paid tribute to his old boat, stating he believed it to be in better shape than the Rolls-Royce which has been waiting for 33 years.
In addition to Munsch and Zingarelli, the ceremony was attended by the commissioning CO, retired CAPTRichard Hartman, retired Rear Admiral Jerry Burroughs (CO 1999-2002), CAPT Chris Cavanaugh (CO 2010-2013) and Barbara Sears representing her late husband Rear Admiral Scott Sears (CO 1983-1986).Also in attendance were 41 plank-owners, 35 post-commissioning crewmembers, about 200 ALBUQUERQUE fans and Ship’s Sponsor Nancy Domenici, accompanied by her husband, retired 6-term US Senator Pete Domenici.Nancy simulated breaking the christening bottle by swinging a bouquet of flowers against the sail.
The day after the Inactivation Ceremony, CDR Tenney, Chief of the Boat STSCS(SS) Neal Bederson and three additional crewmembers attended the Navy League New Mexico Council’s Navy Birthday Ball in downtown Albuquerque.The theme of the event was a salute to the officers and crew of the good ship ALBUQUERQUE as she retires at the top of her game.As the honored guest speaker, CDR Tenney expressed sincere gratitude on behalf of all past COs for Albuquerque’s strong support over the years.
The Albuquerque hometown support team has requested the ship’s sail, rudder and select shipboard mementos for a future USS Albuquerque Memorial.The CO fully expects to discover some additional keep sakes as equipment is removed from the boat. Already the culinary specialists have located some old canned goods with shredded labels, obvious leftovers from one of the boat’s recent deployments.
Returning to San Diego after the Navy Ball, CDR Tenney and his crew prepared for ALBUQUERQUE’s final voyage, a 6-day, 1,385-mile trip up the West Coast to Bremerton. The transit doubled as a Tiger Cruise.It was dive number 1075 on 23 October 2015 when the boat slipped below the horizon for the very last time. She navigated through the Channel Islands off Los Angeles, cruised past Monterey and San Francisco, and quietly steamed along the coasts of Oregon and Washington, hundreds of feet below daylight.
The cruise provided a rare opportunity for 10 tigers to enjoy shipboard life and stand watches with their sons, including on the bridge.The author was also invited to join the tigers.All spent time interacting with the crew and observing computer-based fire control, navigation and sonar systems.It is interesting to note that in 1994, ALBUQUERQUE was the SUBLANT test platform for submarine LAN applications, demonstrating the efficiency of an interconnected computer network onboard a submarine, eventually leading to sailors sending and receiving E-mail at sea.How technology has changed life aboard a submarine! —from 15-word family-grams to sailor-mail, from clipboards to laptops, from 3-reel movies to DVDs . . .
ALBUQUERQUE’s officers and crew exhibited great team-work and an exuberant sense of duty during the transit along the West Coast.Most crew members are younger than their boat, being in their early 20s. But don’t let age fool you.These deployment-tested sailors are highly skilled professionals, trained in their specialty and extremely knowledgeable in all shipboard systems. Well, except for one isolation valve in the auxiliary machinery room where an embossed label is followed by two question marks. Hmm—best to knock on wood for that one, that is, if you can find wood onboard a submarine.That age-old expression is often used to ensure that good things will continue.ALBUQUERQUE kept a 6×6-inchblock of hardwood in the wardroom for just such knock-on-wood occasions.
A critical time for any submarine is when it comes up to periscope depth to snag message traffic or gulp fresh air through the snorkel mast.In an effort to minimize control room conversation during the boat’s approach to PD, the Officer of the Watch, noting the boat is not running silent, not running deep, reminds everyone, “We’re a submarine, not a tambourine!”—a possible reference to a song known to the younger set—“Tambourine Submarine” by a Seattle-based male trio.
Off the Olympic Peninsula, P-3 training exercises were provided with a periscope wake—hardly coincidental, but convenient. After all, skills are perishable over time so to ward off complacency and to maintain a sharp edge, P-3 training is vital.One presumes the my stery target was detected and tracked before it turned towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca.The periscope wake was a gift from the Silent Service—a visual target for real-time ASW training and maritime surveillance—compliments of ALBUQUERQUE.
Like the periscope, excitement was on the rise. The time for the boat’s final three ah-oo-gahs was fast approaching.And per tradition on the night before returning to port, pizza and wings were served in the crews mess—well, just pizza, as the galley, known as the Roadrunner Grill, was out of wings. Still, for this special evening, the galley operated as a nuclear-powered pizza parlor, turning out a variety of great pizzas.
It was a 24-hour surface transit under navy-grayskies as ALBUQUERQUE cruised east through the Strait, then south into Puget Sound, and finally through ever narrowing passages, arriving at her rain-soaked berth at Naval Station Kitsap in Bremerton on 28 October 2015. There she has been awaiting her turnin the scrapping and recycling process when Puget Sound Naval Shipyard workers begin ripping into her hull—an inglorious end for a glorious ship.
To all who have served onboard ALBUQUERQUE, Bravo Zulu. Never in the spotlight, but always operating in one of the most unforgiving environments on the planet, ready for any situation in a world filled with danger and uncertainty, thank you for your service. And thanks to the families who also make sacrifices while their undersea warriors keep America safe and secure.
ALBUQUERQUE lived up to her motto Silentum Excubitor meaning Silent Guardian.Her sailing list reflects the highest credit upon her officers and crew, a very special submarine brotherhood. These men have signed their names to history.USS ALBUQUERQUE will long be remembered for her incredible service to our Navy and our Nation.Adios, Sure Shooter!