It’s July, the month of red, white and blue… and commissionings, too! Perhaps it was an opportunity to save labor on not having to put that bunting up around the ship, but July is among one of the more popular months to crack a bottle of champagne on a ship’s hull.
Five ships this month will celebrate significant milestones in their careers: 10, 20, and 30 years. From patrol craft, to surface warship, to nuclear-powered submarines; all perform their mission – here and abroad – to protect and defend America as part of today’s Navy.
When USS Providence (SSN 719) was commissioned July 27, 1985, at Groton, Conn., she became the fifth ship in the Navy to be named after the Rhode Island city.
What else was going on?
-- The wages of an E-4 were $757.40 a month in 1985. But at $9,204 annually, the wage for an E-4 was still well below the civilian median income of $26,618. Median home prices hit six digits at $100,800.
-- What were Sailors, and America, watching? Among the top films released that week was “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” directed by Tim Burton.
-- On the music front, “A View to Kill” by Duran Duran was apropos for those peering into submarine periscopes, while family members of Providence Sailors may have hummed “Everytime You Go Away” by Paul Young.
-- The artist then-known as Prince had a hit with “Raspberry Beret” and Tears for Fears’s “Shout” was a popular song for an aerobics workout with unitards, legwarmers and sideways ponytails.
-- As Providence was getting all bunted up, President Ronald Reagan was recuperating from surgery to remove cancerous polyps from his intestines, and the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa was being discussed (SPOILER ALERT – he’s still missing).
-- “Texas,” the book by James A. Michener was atop the summer reading list and Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Woebegon” amused readers with tales about a town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
Over the past 30 years, Providence has deployed on numerous tours of the Western Atlantic, Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. The boat, nicknamed the “Big Dog of the Red Sea Wolf Pack,” participated in Operation Southern Watch, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Besides transiting the Suez Canal in 1998, 2001 and 2003, Providence has earned the Order of Magellan certificate by completing an around-the-world deployment which included taking part in the 2006 Exercise MALABAR.
The boat received some reader fame and got to fire fictional missiles at the Soviet Union in the 1986 Tom Clancy book “Red Storm Rising,” but she also suffered a fictional demise by a Soviet submarine after her sail was damaged.
A few years later, however, Providence fired real Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan air defenses on March 19, 2011, as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn after Libya violated a no-fly zone.
Over the years, Providence has earned three Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals, four Navy Expeditionary Medals, six Meritorious Unit Commendations, four Navy Unit Commendations and six Battle E awards and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Performance awards include the Tomahawk Strike Derby in 1988, with a 5-second time on target; winner of the 2008 Arleigh Burke Award for battle efficiency and the 2008 Submarine Squadron 2 Battle Efficiency Award.
Where is Providence Now?
Providence remains part of Submarine Development Squadron 12 based at Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Conn.
Three Navy vessels are celebrating two decades of service after being commissioned in July: coastal patrol ship USS Whirlwind (PC 11), guided missile destroyer USS Ramage (DDG 61), and the nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarine USS Maine (SSBN 741).
What else was going on?
-- Sailors paid about $1.15 for a gallon of gas, while civilian unemployment hovered around 5.6 percent.
-- The E-4 monthly salary was $1,056 and the median price of a home was $158,700.
-- For entertainment, TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the top tune, and Enrique Iglesias’ self-titled first album was spinning on Discman portable music players.
-- Ticketgoers flooded the movie theaters at an average of $4.35 a ticket to see Tom Hank’s “Apollo 13.”
-- In July, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was named for the first time to Forbes’ Richest People in the World list at $12.9 billion (he still retains that position in 2015 with $79.2 billion).
Whirlwind opened the month’s spate of commissioning ceremonies on July 1 in Memphis, Tenn. The eleventh Cyclone-class patrol craft at the time was based out of Little Creek, Va. While out on deployments, Whirlwind performed coastal patrol and interdiction surveillance as part of the Navy’s strategy “Forward…From the Sea.”
Armed with two MK38 chain guns, two MK 19 automatic grenade launchers and two .50-caliber machine guns, Whirlwind cruises the Northern Arabian Gulf on its mission to protect oil terminals and sea-based infrastructure. Two different crews swap time on the patrol craft, each serving for 6-7 months.
Ramage was commissioned July 22 in Boston, Mass. The eleventh in the Arleigh Burke-class of guided-missile destroyers, the ship honors Vice Adm. Lawson P. Ramage, who earned the Medal of Honor in World War II while commanding the submarine Parche (SS 384).
Ramage made her maiden deployment to the Mediterranean Sea in 1996, earning the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, Sea Service Ribbon and the Armed Forces Service Medal.
The destroyer provided support for Marines during Operation Silver Wake in March 1997 in Albania, and escorted the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat USS Constitution when she set sail in Massachusetts Bay on July 21, 1997.
For her second deployment, Ramage was part of the Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group in May 1999. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the destroyer patrolled off the East Coast providing radar coverage for the stricken New York City.
The destroyer deployed again to the Arabian Sea in 2004 with the George Washington Strike Group for Operation Enduring Freedom and then again in October 2006 in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Ramage was first on the scene during the Ethiopian and Somalian hostilities later that year, providing support for P-3 Orion coverage.
Another deployment came in 2008 with the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, and the opportunity to participate in Joint Warrior 09 exercises. During a 2010 deployment, Ramage assisted with the search-and-rescue following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 into the Mediterranean Sea.
In 2013, the destroyer provided ballistic missile defense with the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet as a response to the Syrian Civil War and use of chemical weapons. The destroyer responded to a distress signal of a vessel carrying immigrants off the coast of Kalamata, Greece.
During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Ramage was one of two US Navy ships operating the Black Sea.
The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine Maine was commissioned July 29 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine. The boat is the third Navy vessel to honor the state and was built to carry 24 Trident ballistic missiles.
Maine served initially with Submarine Group 2 at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga. Manned by her Gold Crew, Maine changed her home port and command from Kings Bay to Submarine Squadron 19, Submarine Group 9, at Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Wash., during Patrol 31 between September-December 2005.
Maine, with its Blue and Gold teams, earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation for 2011-12 and the Battle E Award in 2012. That same year, an officer on USS Maine became one of the first three female unrestricted line officers qualified in submarines.
The submarine earned the Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale Leadership award in 2013. Last year, Maine’s Blue Crew added the Battle E award for SUBRON 17 to its list of commendations.
Odd Trivia: Sharp-eyed movie-goers in 1989 might have seen Maine’s hull number, SSBN 741, on the fictional submarine USS Montana in the 1989 hit “The Abyss,” which came out a year before construction even started on Maine. But the submarine would play another fictional role in the novel “The Sum of All Fears,” continuing Tom Clancy’s love-affair with the silent fleet.
So Where Are They Now?
Whirlwind, the 11th Cyclone-class patrol craft is currently homeported in Manama, Bahrain.
USS Ramage, assigned to Command Destroyer Squadron 28, remains in Norfolk, where the destroyer began testing and evaluation in 2014 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
The submarine Maine, attached to Submarine Squadron 17, is currently based in Bangor, Washington.
USS Halsey (DDG 97) was commissioned July 30, 2005 at Naval Station North Island in San Diego, Calif. The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer was named after U.S. Naval Academy graduate Fleet Adm. William "Bull" Halsey Jr., who commanded the U. S. 3rd Fleet during much of the Pacific War against Japan.
What else was going on?
-- The unemployment rate hovered around 5.1 percent despite an increase in the price of gasoline to $2.30 from just $1.15 in 1995.
-- That was good news for the E4, whose monthly salary hovered at $1,612.80, or $19,353.60 annually, falling well short of the $46,236 median income. The median price of a home soared by 87 percent to $297,000 compared to $158,700 in 1995.
-- At the box office, Sailors were amused by the antics of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in “Wedding Crashers.”
-- On the music scene, Live 8 Benefit Concerts pressured the G8 world leaders to pledge $50 billion in aid to Africa by the year 2010.
-- Sports wise, it was a big month: Venus Williams and Roger Federer won Wimbledon, and Tiger Woods won the British Open.
Halsey had a rough start after a two fires and an explosion caused $8.5 million in damage during the destroyer’s first deployment in 2006.
A second deployment in 2008 had the destroyer in the Persian Gulf, returning home in Nov. 2008. Halsey, assigned as part of the USS Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group, deployed to the U.S. Fifth Fleet for maritime security operations.
The ship experienced two more tragedies, one in 2009 when a Sailor died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and in Jan. 2011, when a crewmember was lost overboard in the Gulf of Oman. Her body was recovered the next day.
In 2012, Halsey and its helicopter detachment provided assistance to a distress call from a Yemeni dhow en route to Somalia.
So Where is USS Halsey Now?
The destroyer performed a hull swap in 2013 with USS Russell (DDG 59) and is now homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman.
To learn more about U.S. Navy history, please go to the Naval History and Heritage Command website: www.history.navy.mil/.