(At the International Date Line)
"All ahead flank, helm, aye."
With those words, Machinist's Mate Third Class (Submarines) Aaron Carranza relayed the order to propel the submarine USS Kamehameha (SSN-642) through the 180th parallel and into the Western Pacific Ocean. The native of Salinas, California was standing watch as helmsman on the oldest submarine in the United States Navy, returning to Guam for a last visit prior to her decommissioning later this year. Said Carranza about the trip, "I was looking forward to it. Especially since we'll be seeing Guam and Australia, and we usually go to other places."
A visit to Guam and newly reactivated Submarine Squadron Fifteen is a closure of sorts for USS Kamehameha. As a ballistic missile submarine, or SSBN, Kamehameha performed her first patrol in 1966 from Guam. Back then, Guam was her new home port, Submarine Squadron Fifteen was her parent squadron and the "blue" crew started the patrol while the "gold" crew trained and rested.
USS Kamehameha is today a fast attack submarine, or SSN, with a
single crew, having been converted to a special forces carrier from
her original mission. Two Dry Deck Shelters mounted on the top
of what once were ballistic missile tubes allow navy divers and
special forces to perform a wide variety of missions.
Machinist's Mate Third Class Shane Ishikawa from Kaneohe, Hawaii and
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma thinks that being on the Kam for her final
WESTPAC is "pretty cool. Just coming to the boat and seeing
these ports and doing a decomómost people don't get to do
that." He's looking forward to being in Guam, but has never
been there. Ishikawa says that once in port "I'll probably hang
out with friends and maybe play some volleyball."
Fire Control Technician Third Class (Submarines) Paul Ballor of Portage, Illinois is more wistful about the last trip. "This being my first boat, it'll be part of my history-30 or 40 years from now I'll be able to remember this." Ballor also mentioned the uniqueness of the ship and its mission. "I'm really thankful for the luxury of the space we have", he said. "Qualifying and learning about the conversion process (from SSBN to SSN) was interesting, and talking with SEALs and divers helped me decide to apply for EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) training."
On the other hand, thereís still a lot of work to do. With two Dry Deck Shelters and dozens of tons of storage space, the ship is uniquely capable to transport special forces and equipment while still performing all the traditional SSN missions. Kamehameha is traveling to the Western Pacific to perform exercises and missions that won't be possible once she decommissions, and she'll be relieving pressure felt by other fast attack submarines to perform more missions after the Cold War ended with fewer submarines available. Machinist's Mate George Swies of Tucson, Arizona says of the last transit and decom that "I never really thought about it. You don't really feel like you're going until you finally get underway." He says the part he'll miss the most is the camaraderie of shipmates. "We've got a really good crew. A lot of guys are going to miss that when we go."
There's been discussion of a new type of submarine, a conversion of some older SSBN's to a new role instead of throwing ships away when the new START treaty goes into effect. USS Kamehameha sailors are used to the idea, and know where the proposed SSGN's special forces capability can be most effectively used. But for now, it's time to finish one final deployment.