As part of the chronicling of the activities related to the Inactivation of the USS Pittsburgh, I reached out to the major participants of the event. This is the last installment and contains remarks made by the guest speaker RDML Doug Perry, Commander Submarine Group Nine. The Admiral was kind to have the reception in his personal quarters the night before and displayed amazing grace and hospitality to all of us who traveled so far to see the event in person.
These are his remarks (unedited).
Thank you very much Doug for your great thoughts and for all you did for the boat.
I will let your words tell your personal connection with this fighting ship:
Major Commanders, Commanding Officers, present and former crew members, honored guests, friends, family, and all yinzers, Steelers, Pirates, Pittsburghers and anyone else with a heart of steel, I welcome you all to the inactivation ceremony of SSN 720, USS Pittsburgh.
It is a pleasure for me to be here today, not only as Commander of Submarine Group 9, but as a past crew member of USS Pittsburgh. It is a special day for me. I’m incredibly honored to be here as a guest and also have the opportunity to talk about a boat that has had such an immense impact on me, personally and professionally.
I want to offer a special welcome to Dr. Carol Sawyer, who has served as USS Pittsburgh’s sponsor throughout Pittsburgh service life. We appreciate all you have done throughout the years as an advocate for, and the number one fan of, USS Pittsburgh. USS Pittsburgh is special in many ways, which I will get into shortly, but it is your sponsorship that has been an outstanding and ever present through line throughout the ship’s history. Pittsburgh crew, past and present, our Navy and our nation cannot thank you enough.
I also want to welcome a few other luminaries who have made the trek up to the Pacific Northwest today, CWO2 Bob MacPherson, President of the Pittsburgh Navy League, and, Mr. Huey Dietrich, Commanding Officer of the Pittsburgh SUBVETs, USS Requin chapter. Thank you all for making the trip up to the Pacific Northwest to celebrate this day with us.
Finally, I want to thank a couple of folks who made a big difference to the current and last crew of USS Pittsburgh. First I want to thank, Mrs. Michelle Waters, USS Pittsburgh command ombudsmen. Michelle, your impact on this crew has been immense and they could not have executed the cross-country interfleet transfer of more than 75 families without your help. Thank you for your contribution and support of this crew.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to welcome and thank Michelle Deichler, the wife and mother to Jason’s four wonderful children, Hannah, James, Matthew and Ian. Your support of Jason during his command tour has been a key to his success. Command is hard, but being separated from your family for the majority of a command tour is even harder. Jason could not be effective without you. Please know that, as current geo-bachelor, I truly understand and appreciate all the balls you’ve had to keep in the air and hoops you’ve had to jump through to ensure Jason can execute the mission of our nation. Thank you, and thank you for being here.
Ok, I do have some prepared remarks that I plan to get to, but I wanted to get the unpleasantness out of the way now. Many may not be aware of this, but when it was commissioned, USS Pittsburgh was constructed with the prototype propulsor system that would go on to be installed on the USS Seawolf-class of fast-attack submarines. There is a lot that is interesting about the system. Not least is that due to the construction and engineering of that system, the boat, when operating at speed, would maintain about a 5 degree list. I’m a cyclist, in my spare time, and to this day, when I’m headed down a good decline and the wind is whipping past, I have to really fight the urge to lean. Thanks Pittsburgh.
But, that isn’t why I bring up the propulsor. As I said earlier, I was a former crew member of USS Pittsburgh, in fact, USS Pittsburgh was my first boat. Today we are lucky to have with us, in the audience, my first CO, Steve Wolfe. Now Steve will remember that we had an unfortunate incident with that propulsor system. I remember it well, we had been heading back to port after a transit back from a deployment in the Atlantic. Well, as we got back to port, we made truly unsettling discovery. The propulsor, which was, to say the least, not cheap, had not made the full transit with the boat. I remember this well, because it was my unfortunate duty to inform Steve that our propulsor was not installed where we’d left it. To say he was not pleased would be an understatement. Now we were able to install the back up for the propulsor and we all went about our business, but, unfortunately, Steve, I once again, have to be the barer of bad news. I have the regrettable duty of informing you that the bill has come due. We are going to need recover the cash cost, and the juice has been running. I have a dd200 –present form with receipt attached, long cvs style receipt – lost property investigation form and an itemized receipt. My team is going to work with you to execute a very reasonable payment plan, and we also plan to pass the hat at the conclusion of today’s ceremony. Earmuffs, JAGs. Steve, believe me, I had nothing but good things to say on your behalf, but the JO mafia, even after some of us have made flag, have to stick together.
On a more serious note, Steve it is a pleasure to have you here to be a part of this ceremony. Your impact on my career cannot be overstated, and it is great to have you here to be a part of this day.
And, today is indeed a special day. Today we come together to say goodbye to USS Pittsburgh. Now at these inactivation ceremonies you often hear statements about how the ship is ultimately just a hunk of steel, that it is the crew that gives a submarine its character. I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but you know with Pittsburgh, the submarine and the namesake, a hunk of steel just means more. The crews that have been a part of it know. When you think of USS Pittsburgh, where it has been, the history it has been a part of, there is a quality to this boat that has reverberated through all the crews that have served aboard and through our submarine force as a whole. For me, today is like the retirement of a valued Sailor who has served the country with honor for 35 years. Pittsburgh had and has imparted that kind of impact on those of us who have served aboard. Pittsburgh Sailors are tough, they are resourceful, they know how to have a good time and when there was a job that needed doing, you can bet that Pittsburgh and her crew were going to show up and make sure it got done. We are all, all better Sailors for having been a part of her history.
That history began all the way back in November of 1985. Pittsburgh was commissioned at a special time in our history, and, to me, a really amazing aspect of Pittsburgh service-life is how you can kind of chart our national history, where we were at with strategy and our concerns with USS Pittsburgh. When she was commissioned, our country was still in the middle of the great, Cold War, which defined the second half of the 20th century. It was a period of great power competition, and Pittsburgh was no small part of our country emerging victorious from that conflict. I can’t give a lot of details during this period, but I can tell you that USS Pittsburgh completed numerous North Atlantic and Mediterranean deployments that directly contributed to our national security.
Now cut to a few years later in 1991, we are at a period of time that some, admittedly over-optimistic, historians had called the end of history. The Soviet Union was dissolving, the Berlin Wall had begun falling. While the free world rightfully celebrated, this was a period of real uncertainty for our military and our submarine force. What was our role? How do we continue to provide value in this new unipolar world? Well, the world and reality have a way of reasserting themselves, and in this instance, it was in the form the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. How would our submarine force remain relevant? USS Pittsburgh provided a kinetic answer to that question. During Operation Desert Storm, USS Pittsburgh became, along with USS Louisville, one of the first U.S. Submarines to fire tomahawk missiles in anger. This did two things: It contributed significantly to the liberation of Kuwait and the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s forces, and it provided concrete proof of the utility and flexibility of submarine launched tomahawk missiles. This operation proved the concept that strikes against land-based targets from submarines could provide a ready, reliable and undetectable capability to our civilian and military war planners. Pittsburgh answered the question of post-cold war relevance with that launch and would continue to provide unmatched, worldwide, strategic and tactical capability throughout the decade.
And unfortunately, I can’t tell you the details of all the ways USS Pittsburgh provided value and continued to prove the worth of the submarine force during that initial post-cold war era, and, to be honest, I think that is fitting. Pittsburgh’s impact can’t be boiled down to one operation or one mission set, because part of what has made Pittsburgh so special is the breadth of operations Pittsburgh has taken part in. Crew members who served during this period, myself included, truly experienced the worldwide impact of our submarine force and USS Pittsburgh. She completed deployments in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, eastern Pacific, and Arabian Gulf. She visited places like Holy Loch, Tromso, Lisbon, Brest, and Rotterdam. She joined the order of the ditch, the order of the shellback, and the order of the Spanish Main. She transited the Panama Canal. She sailed as part of Carrier Battle Groups and as an independent deployer. She conducted operations and exercises all around the globe in concert with our allies and to the detriment of our foes. She was where things were happening, when they mattered.
As time passed, our country and our world adjusted to a new status quo, of a one superpower world. As we now know, new threats were preparing to emerge. With 9/11 our country again found ourselves in conflict, albeit with a different kind of enemy. As our country went to war, our leaders again found themselves calling on Pittsburgh, just as they had the decade before. Pittsburgh was again tasked to strike Saddam Hussein’s forces, this time as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Like always, when needed, Pittsburgh answered the call, and those calls haven’t stopped in the years since. Pittsburgh was there. She was there to conduct special operations missions, she was there to conduct theater anti-submarine warfare, she was there and prepared to strike when called upon. She was there throughout the years and continued to contribute to our security and to the missions of our force.
Even as she transited to Bremerton for her final voyage with Jason and his crew, Pittsburgh couldn’t rest on her laurels. In the Pittsburgh way, she had to continue to push the envelope, conducting her first Arctic transit during her 34th year of service. Jason, I’m both proud and excited for what you and your crew have accomplished. It is an honor to be the last crew of a ship with the kind of legacy Pittsburgh has, and you have all honored that legacy. Thinking about the legacy of Pittsburgh was really the final piece of the puzzle for putting together my remarks here today.
In my preparations for this event, I had put out a call for sea stories and memories from former COs. As I was looking over the contributions I received, something CAPT James Colston, who commanded the boat from 2015 to 2018, wrote really summed up a lot about the spirit of USS Pittsburgh. He said that Pittsburgh’s spirit and reputation has always been that of boat that, “gets things done.” That spoke to me when I was thinking about Pittsburgh because it gets at the heart of what makes Pittsburgh special. It isn’t a flowery phrase, or one that speaks to glory or some high-minded, abstract ideal. You could speak those words about Pittsburgh and you wouldn’t be wrong, but when you boil it all down, Pittsburgh is a boat that got things done. That fits. That’s Pittsburgh, bring your lunch pail and your hard hat, and don’t quit until you conquer whatever mission is in front of you.
This is a bittersweet day for a ship that got things done, but it has also brought things full-circle. As we prepare to inactivate USS Pittsburgh, just as it was when she was commissioned, we have returned to a period of great power competition. China and Russia are again seeking to assert themselves in the maritime domain and around the world, and, as a Navy and Submarine Force, we are tasked with ensuring our country remains positioned to match and counter their influence. Our new CNO, ADM Gilday, recently put out his fragmentary order updating the Navy’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. In that document, he said it was our duty as a service to enhance and exploit our core warfighting advantages, and it is no accident that maintaining mastery of the undersea domain was at the top of those core warfighting advantages. Pittsburgh was and, as long as she has former crew members in the fleet, is a major part of the legacy that has built this truly asymmetric advantage in the undersea domain.
Pittsburgh was there and she got it done. Jason as you and your crew go about your work putting USS Pittsburgh to rest, take that legacy forward. Take that spirit and that heart of steel out into the rest of our Submarine Force and our Navy. We need it now more than ever. That is Pittsburgh’s final mission, and I look forward to seeing how you all continue to get it done.
Jason, thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to speak at this fantastic event on a truly special day. Thank you all for coming and thank you USS Pittsburgh.
Links to all of the USS Pittsburgh Stories :