By Devon Hubbard Sorlie, Communication and Outreach Division, Naval History and Heritage Command
Just like wedding crashers who try to join in on the festivities without an invitation, there are also commissioning crashers. Except few make as big a scene as did Felix on Aug. 18, 1995. Hurricane Felix, that is.
Weather forecasters issued hurricane watches and warnings for Aug. 18, the day set for the commissioning of PCU Tucson (SSN 770). But, because of the storm, the submarine was out to sea with the rest of the Norfolk-based fleet, sortied to safety.
Felix just brushed off the East Coast south of Virginia, causing considerable damage in beach erosion and killing nine people, before taking a northeast turn and dissipating a week later. Upon the fleet’s return to Norfolk, PCU Tuscon’s commissioning was rescheduled for Sept. 19.
Or was it? The boat’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Duane M. Baker, decreed before the ceremony began that for the next two hours it would be Aug. 18. At least it was a cost-effective way to save on reprinting that 48-page commissioning booklet.
The Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine is the second to be named for the city in Arizona.
What was the world like when USS Tucson entered the Fleet?
- The price of a gallon of gasoline was around $1.12 during that week in August 1995, while unemployment stabilized to around 5.6 percent, or 7.4 million people out of work.
- The E-4 basic monthly salary (without Basic Allowance for Housing) was $1,056, but the average cost of a home tapped in at $162,000.
- Undeterred by Hurricane Felix, Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld” was making a brief splash in the theaters, along with a talking pig named “Babe.”
- Keeping up with the water theme for this date, “Waterfalls” by the girl-band TLC was the top song on the radio.
- Summer reading was hardly “light” for August 1995. Pat Conroy’s “Beach Music” was based in Waterton (there’s that water theme, again!), N.C. when the eldest of five sons returned home after escaping to Rome following his wife’s suicide. Creepy and crawly described books by Anne Rice and Patricia Cornwell. Rice’s “Memnoch the Devil” had vampire Lestat seeking his mortal muse Dora, while Cornwell’s “The Body Farm” offered a peek into the training forensic scientists undergo to figure out how long someone has been dead after a golden retriever brings home a leg with a sneaker attached to it. And if that wasn’t dreadful enough, “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston was a fictional account of the virus Ebola moving into the upwardly-mobile suburban areas around Washington, D.C.
- For those statistic-crazy baseball fans, St. Louis Cardinals’ reliever Tom Henke earned his 300th career save and Daryl Strawberry joined the New York Yankees.
Over the past 20 years, Tucson has taken part in a number of deployments and exercises. Less than a year after her commissioning, a windstorm in June 1996 at her homeport of Norfolk caused a Military Sealift Command vessel to break free, striking both Tucson and a nearby destroyer. Damaged was limited to the submarine’s antenna. Shortly afterward, Tucson spent two months transiting to her new homeport at Pearl Harbor.
The sub’s maiden deployment was April 1998 to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Southern Watch. The following year, the submarine participated in Exercise Teamwork South 99 off the coast of Chile, often hosting Chilean sailors onboard.
The submarine also joined in to RIMPAC 2000 with the Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Battle Group and then Exercise Arabian Shark in November 2000. A month later, the submarine hosted several Japanese government officials during Command Fleet Activities at Yokosuka, Japan.
USS Tucson was on patrol Jan. 16, 2002 during Operation Enduring Freedom after the United Nations Security Council established an arms embargo and freezing of assets belonging to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
On July 9, 2003, Tucson fired the first launch of the Tactical Tomahawk from an operational submarine launch platform in the waters of the Naval Air System Command sea test range off the coast of Southern California.
The sub was back in Southern California waters in Oct. 2005 to practice anti-submarine warfare during COMPTUEX with the Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group.
Tucson left its Pearl Harbor homeport in March 2006 on its way to Japan for another Western Pacific deployment, with an 18-month layover at Norfolk for a major depot modernization. The boat returned home Dec. 15, 2008.
Tucson participated in the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Submarine (JMSDF) Competition 2014 in the Philippine Sea Feb. 12-16, 2014. The anti-submarine warfare competition involved five Japanese submarines and Tucson competing to win the Japanese Battle Efficiency Award.
Tucson returned back to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman in March 2014 following that Western Pacific deployment.
Where is Tucson now?
Tucson remains part of Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, Submarine Squadron Seven, located at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman.