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Groton — Twice during a recent deployment the USS Providence was asked to stay out at sea longer, a task Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge called "lunatic hard."
"Being extended once is hard. Twice extended is just sort of lunatic hard. It's crazy hard. And that is what the Providence did," Breckenridge, the director of the undersea warfare division, said Wednesday at the change-of-command ceremony for the submarine.
Breckenridge, the former commander of Submarine Group Two in Groton, was the guest speaker at the ceremony in which Cmdr. Michael G. Quan turned over command of the Providence to Cmdr. Tony S. Grayson pierside at the Naval Submarine Base.
The Providence (SSN 719) returned to the base in March after a more than seven-month deployment.
Breckenridge said after the ceremony that six-month deployments will continue to be the norm, but longer deployments may sometimes be necessary.
"We're just going to have to manage that as well as we can," he said, adding that maintaining the production rate of two Virginia-class submarines per year and delivering them to the fleet quickly will be particularly important in the coming years.
The loss of the USS Miami puts even more pressure on the submarine force, Breckenridge added. The Navy recently decided to stop repairing the submarine because of the rising cost of the work. A civilian worker set a fire inside the submarine while it was undergoing repairs at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, in May 2012.
The Miami still had 10 years remaining in its roughly 30-year service life, making it eligible for at least five more deployments.
"Every one of those deployments is pivotally important," Breckenridge said. "Someone is going to shoulder the load for that."
The Providence's deployment was extended because the commander at the U.S. Central Command needed the submarine, according to Quan, who has led the Providence since April 2011.
The crew was leaving the Arabian Gulf earlier this year when they got the call to turn around, Breckenridge said. Then, they got yet another "bonus extension," he added.
"There are not many submarines that we do this to. But we did it to the Providence and, boy, did they rise to the challenge," Breckenridge said.
Quan, who received the Meritorious Service Medal, said this assignment has been, by far, the most challenging and rewarding of his career.
"What else could be more satisfying than taking your ship out to sea and carrying out the assigned mission, whether it is just off the coast of New England for a week or halfway around the world for months?" said Quan, who thanked his crew, his family and the team that supported the Providence.
Quan said he will miss the sound of the ship's whistle as the submarine gets underway, the pride on the face of a young sailor as his submarine warfare insignia is pinned on his chest, and the camaraderie in the wardroom.
"What I will miss most is the teamwork and pride of the crew as they operate the ship and prepare themselves to carry on and carry out the day's orders," said Quan, who is moving on to join the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations in Arlington, Va.
Grayson has served previously as the executive officer on the USS Ohio (SSGN 726) Gold crew and as the executive assistant to the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain.
Grayson said the mission of Providence can be summarized in six words — "warfighting first, operate forward, be ready."
"We are Providence," he said. "We fight where we're told, and we win where we fight."