USS Miami crew not exactly idle as ill-fated sub gets new skipper

Even though their submarine will be dismantled, the crew members of the USS Miami are still training to go to sea.

More than 70 Miami sailors have supported deploying submarine crews since they've been at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where a fire severely damaged the sub in May 2012. Eight Miami sailors are deployed today, said Cmdr. Roger Meyer, the commanding officer.

This, Meyer said, is probably his proudest accomplishment — knowing his officers and enlisted crewmen are well trained and supporting the fleet.

All of the Miami sailors will eventually be reassigned. Sixty-five are in process of transferring to other ships in the fleet as others continue to train and remain ready, Meyer said.

Meyer turned over command of the Groton-based submarine to Cmdr. Rolf Spelker in a ceremony held Friday in an auditorium at the naval shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

The Miami (SSN 755) was at the shipyard for a 20-month overhaul when a civilian worker set a fire aboard the vessel. The Navy initially said it would repair the ship but later decided to scrap it because of rising cost estimates and fiscal constraints.

While the Miami was operational it was the "go-to boat," Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry, the commander of Submarine Group Two and guest speaker at the ceremony, said in a written response to questions.

Meyer, who became the commanding officer in September 2010, led the crew on a five-month deployment to the European theater. That deployment, which turned out to be the last for the Miami, was highly successful, Perry said.

Meyer said the crew executed missions vital to national security. "That's an experience I'll always remember," he said in his written answers. "I'll also remember the hard work we put in to successfully execute our engineering overhaul and the unfortunate events of May 23.

"I've had the hardest working, most technically diverse and professional team these past three years. And I'm grateful for what they've done in support of our nation's defense and the submarine force mission."

Perry praised Meyer for his steadfast leadership of the crew as they battled the fire and for keeping the crew focused during the recovery efforts. "Commander Meyer has exceeded expectations at every turn during his tour," he said.

Perry also said that "losing Miami is tough" since the demand for attack submarines is as strong as ever, but "as the scope of the repair effort and remaining financial liability became clearer, the decision to inactivate Miami had to be made."

The inactivation is scheduled for spring 2014. The Miami had 10 years and five deployments left in its service life.

Meyer described the crew morale as high. He also said he was thankful to the men and women at the naval shipyard.

"Throughout nearly 22 years of service, I have worked in or with every private and public submarine shipyard, and I can honestly say that Portsmouth is the finest shipyard in the Navy," he said.

Spelker, the incoming commander, last served at sea as the executive officer of the USS Albany, and most recently worked as an action officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Meyer will be the next deputy commander of Submarine Squadron 6 in Norfolk, Va. He said it was tough to say goodbye to the Miami crew because he has many fond memories of what they accomplished together.

"As I transfer to my next assignment I will miss the friendships and the daily interactions with the crew the most," Meyer said. "However, I am looking forward to bringing what the Miami crew has taught me to Norfolk when I report to Submarine Squadron 6."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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