USS Columbia (SSN 771) received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for its last deployment, Sept. 5, just minutes before setting the maneuvering detail and departing for another.
Commander, Submarine Squadron 3, Capt. Joseph Tofalo, presented the Meritorious Unit Commendation to Columbia’s crew as they said their goodbyes to their loved ones at Pearl Harbor and prepared to leave for a surge deployment to the Western Pacific.
In the award citation, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen praised Columbia for conducting an operation “of great importance to national security” and for providing “invaluable lessons for future operations and directly (enhancing) fleet, theater and national objectives.”
Cmdr. Gene Sievers, Columbia’s commanding officer, said his crew did an “extraordinary” job keeping the submarine in a ready status, despite returning from the deployment only six months ago.
“Normally after you return, you stand down and move into maintenance period,” said Sievers. “But the crew has maintained the ship in top shape, immediately going through the certification process.”
During that time, Columbia was called upon at the last minute to participate in RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) 2006 exercises, where his crew spent three weeks in July operating as part of the binational force with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force.
Sievers gave particular credit to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for helping Columbia meet her deployment schedule. He said an emergent maintenance issue just one month before Columbia was due to deploy was fixed by Shipyard divers rather than by putting the submarine into dry dock.
"They turned what otherwise would have been an emergent docking into a minor four-day pierside repair," he said.
Columbia’s award comes on the heels of another significant recognition. Just two weeks ago, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Gary Roughead presented Columbia’s crew with the Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy, presented annually to the most improved operational unit in the fleet.
Machinist's Mate 1st Class (SS/DS) Gawain Brown, an auxiliaryman from St. Louis, Mo., said he is looking forward to this deployment.
“It’s a great feeling keeping family, friends and loved ones safe,” he said.
Even family members sad to see their loved ones leave recognized that deployments are the most important part of their job.
“You never want to see them leave,” said Christina Schreiner, Columbia’s ombudsman. “But we know the importance of their job out there.”
Commissioned Oct. 9, 1995, Columbia is the 60th submarine of the Los Angeles class. Columbia displaces more than 6,900 tons, is 360 feet long, and can reach speeds in excess of 25 knots and attain depths of more than 800 feet.
Columbia's shorter surge deployment is a part of the Fleet Response Plan (FRP), a program developed to change the way ships deploy and to provide the United States with a greater range of naval options, adding the element of flexibility to naval efficiency.
The idea behind FRP is to keep the Navy ready to surge and to vary the lengths of deployments, meaning the Navy will be more flexible, ready to deploy whenever, wherever.