POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 25, 2011
The state's namesake submarine, the USS Hawaii, returned yesterday from a showcase deployment — the first to the western Pacific by a new Virginia-class sub — to a band, a former governor, a beauty queen, 75 excited families and the praise of Navy leadership.
Two outriggers from the Honolulu Pearl Canoe Club led the Hawaii into port at about 4:30 p.m., with the sub sporting a big blue-and-gold lei and Hawaiian and black "war canoe" flags from its sail, the latter a tip of the hat to World War II tradition.
Rear Adm. James F. Caldwell Jr., commander of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force, said the six-month deployment went "perfectly."
"She was on time for every commitment. She did all of the missions that we asked her to do," Caldwell said. "They came back here having done everything we asked them to do, and they represented the United States, the ship and the state of Hawaii very well."
The 377-foot nuclear-powered attack submarine and 136 crew members left Pearl Harbor on Aug. 25, stopped in Guam at least twice, participated in the exercise Valiant Shield 2010, worked with the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and also made port stops in Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
Those are the unclassified missions officials can talk about. The deployment also was stressful, and the crew was under a microscope.
The Virginia-class submarines, the Navy's first major combat ship designed for a post-Cold War environment, have six side-mounted sonar arrays, plus arrays in the bow, sail and nose, improving the ability to operate in the littorals, or coastal waters. The subs cost more than $2 billion apiece.
Cmdr. Steve Mack, the Hawaii's commanding officer, said the big questions used to be "how fast and how deep can your submarine go, and that's not what the world is about anymore."
"It's really how slow and how shallow can you take your submarine," he said.
The littoral capability "is a big emphasis in the Pacific where there is a large amount of diesel submarines," Mack said. "Diesel submarines generally do not go out into the open ocean. They stay in close and shallow."
Allies in the Pacific have become jittery about the possibility of China supplanting some of the U.S. dominance in the Pacific, and the U.S. Navy has moved 60 percent of its attack submarines to the region.
Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, based in Japan, recently sought to allay some of those concerns, saying the Navy has about 70 ships on average daily in the region — about the same or more so than a decade ago.
Pearl Harbor has three Virginia-class submarines with more on the way, and the vessels, which are very quiet, are part of a U.S. bulwark of power in the Pacific.
Family members said the deployment was extra stressful, and both sailors and spouses were happy to be reunited yesterday.
"I'm excited," said Kate Brennan as she waited with a blue, yellow and purple lei in one hand and holding 2-year-old daughter Lillian's hand with the other. Son Mathew, 13, and daughter Kayley, 10, also waited for their dad's return. Kate Brennan received "first kiss" honors with her husband, Senior Chief Petty Officer Ed Brennan, a fire control technician.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle, the Hawaii's christening sponsor, met with families and crew. "It's a namesake, and it also maintains some of the culture of Hawaii," Lingle said.