By Journalist Seaman Joseph Caballero, Fleet Public Affairs Center, Pacific
The crew of the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Salt Lake City (SSN 716) held the ship’s inactivation ceremony Oct. 26 at Naval Base Point Loma, Calif.
More than 250 Sailors, plankowners and former commanding officers turned out for the event to say farewell to the submarine they once served aboard.
“It’s sad to see her go,” said retired Capt. Richard Itkin, Salt Lake City’s first commanding officer. “It seems like only yesterday that my crew and I built this ship up.”
After 21 years of active service, Salt Lake City will be decommissioned later this fall at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Virginia. The inactivation ceremony gave the visitors and crew time to say goodbye to the boat before it heads to Virginia. During the ceremony, the commissioning pennant was taken down, symbolizing the ship’s retirement.
“Salt Lake City is going to leave San Diego for the final time, and that’s why we held the inactivation ceremony,” said Salt Lake City’s commanding officer Cmdr. Tracy Howard. “San Diego has been its homeport for about 20 years, so I’m sure San Diego’s submarine family is sad to watch her go.”
Howard also said that the ship was honored to have the namesake of Salt Lake City.
“We’ve had a great relationship with the city of Salt Lake,” said Howard. “We’ve had numerous distinguished visitors from Salt Lake City on board, and we’ve also sent Sailors out to visit the city.”
One distinguished visitor who went underway with the submarine was Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen. According to Christensen, the submarine and her crew have been a valued part of his community.
“Having this ship bear our city’s name has been a real honor,” said Christensen. “It’s hard to say goodbye to the boat and its crew – they’ve been like family to us.”
Family was also the way the chief of the boat, Master Chief Machinist's Mate (SS) Bob Koehler, described the crew.
“Because there’s such confined quarters, you know everything about everybody,” said Koehler. “That brings us that much closer. We take care of each other – we are family.”
“You can never get out of the sub family,” said World War II veteran Jim Rogers, who’s joined with other veterans to sponsor subs and their crews. “Once you get your dolphins, you’re always a submariner, no matter how many years ago.”
Some plankowners saw the submarine they brought to life in its final hour of active duty. In the days of wooden ships, commissioning crews or plankowners were often allowed to take a piece of the ship’s planking when it decommissioned.
“I’m hoping they’ll let me take the nameplate off the radio door,” said Retired Chief Radioman (SS) Frank Vick. “That’s where I worked as a radioman.”
Salt Lake City has earned numerous awards during her eight full deployments, including four Battle Efficiency (Battle “E”) awards, three Navy Unit Commendation awards and two Meritorious Unit Commendation awards. The submarine helped support numerous operations spanning from the Cold War in the mid-'80s to the post-Iraq security concerns of the present.