On 15 November, the U.S. ballistic-missile submarine force celebrated the 60th anniversary of the first strategic deterrent patrol by a Ship Submarine Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN).
USS George Washington (SSBN 598) departed Cape Canaveral, Florida, with 16 Polaris missiles on the first strategic deterrent patrol, Nov. 15, 1960.
George Washington was the lead ship in its class, and the first of 41 SSBNs launched by the U.S. Navy between 1960 and 1966. These submarines initiated the U.S. nuclear triad, and were aptly referred to as the “41 for Freedom.”
“For the last 60 years, the strategic deterrent mission has been conducted in silence and without fanfare, quietly ensuring our nation’s continued safety and freedom,” said Commander, Submarine Group 9 Rear Adm. Doug Perry. “As we celebrate the strategic-deterrence mission today and its ongoing significance to our nation, it is important for us all to recognize the Sailors who have dedicated their time, effort and talents to serving in the ballistic-missile submarine force for more than half a century. Your sacrifices have made our nation and our world safer and more peaceful. Thank you for what you have done and all you continue to do.”
Cmdr. Joe Campbell, commanding officer, USS Kentucky (SSBN 737) (Gold) says the heavy responsibility of the strategic-deterrent mission goes unnoticed by many, which plays a role in its success and legacy.
“One of my most important jobs is to pass on the legacy and teach our young Sailors, who are coming into this critical job, the vital importance of what they do,” said Campbell. “It’s up to us as senior leaders, and those of us that have done this job before, to continuously tell the story and explain the why. Not just to our young Sailors, but to our friends and family who don’t get to see the benefit, because our success lies in every day that we have a peaceful world.”
According to Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate (Auxiliary) Derick Piper, chief of the boat, USS Kentucky (SSBN 737) (Gold), the strategic mission is to be undetectable, a “silent sentry” and something that’s not really talked about.
“We provide strategic comfort; letting adversaries know that we have the capabilities of an undetectable asset to ensure the safety and security of the U.S. populous,” said Piper. “We’re out there and we’re doing everything we can to maintain people’s livelihoods and preserve their freedoms.”
Since 1958, Congress has authorized 59 SSBNs. There have been seven different class designs and more that 4,000 patrols have been completed.
“By being there, by being present, we have an invisible hand on every world conflict,” said Senior Chief Culinary Specialist (Submarines) Jon Reicks, supply department enlisted advisor and leading culinary specialist, USS Kentucky (SSBN 737) (Gold). “We are in some terms ‘the big stick that America carries,’ and that goes back all the way to the very first SSBN test firing, and letting the world know that we can accomplish our mission anytime.”
The Navy currently holds 14 active SSBNs in its inventory and construction of the newest Columbia-class submarine began this year.
Since the 1960s, strategic deterrence has been the SSBN’s sole mission, providing the United States with its most survivable and enduring nuclear strike capability. Each SSBN has two crews, blue and gold, which alternate the manning and deploying of the submarine. This maximizes the SSBN’s strategic availability and allows for proper crew training, readiness, and morale.
“The strategic deterrent mission is very heavily based in technology and innovation, but the most important part of the strategic deterrent mission is the people; the men and women that for 24/7, since 1960, have continuously stood the watch and ensured the mission can continue,” said Campbell.