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Groton - The submarine that starred in "The Hunt for Red October," the USS Dallas, returned from its last overseas deployment Monday. Next year, after 33 years in the fleet, the Dallas will be inactivated.
Tom Clancy's Cold War thriller made the Dallas famous, but in Navy circles it is better known for being the first attack submarine to carry a dry-deck shelter, which houses a vehicle for launching and recovering special operations forces.
"Of all the submarines that would be finishing up their service life, there are a couple out there that people know by name, and Dallas is one of them," said Capt. David A. Roberts, who commanded Dallas from 2007 to 2009. "It kind of adds to the moment. 'The Hunt for Red October' submarine we all know and love from the movies is going to be finishing up its service life soon."
But, Roberts said, he always tells people who ask about the Dallas that it has "done a lot more than just being in the movies."
"Think about how the world has changed," said Roberts, who now leads the Submarine Learning Center. "The missions Dallas was built for initially back then, in the late 1970s and early '80s, are so much different than in 2013. And she has stood the test of time and been able to keep step with the changing world, the challenging world."
The Dallas (SSN 700) returned to the Naval Submarine Base on Monday after operating in Europe and the Middle East and traveling more than 34,000 miles during nearly seven months at sea.
While all deployments are memorable, Cmdr. Jack Houdeshell, the current commanding officer of the Dallas, said the last deployment comes second only to the maiden deployment for a submarine.
And on this deployment, Houdeshell added, the crew and the ship "showed the world what we can still do."
The Dallas will continue to support training and other missions until September, when the preparations begin in earnest for the decommissioning, Houdeshell said.
One of 42 Los Angeles-class attack submarines remaining in the fleet, the Dallas was commissioned in 1981 as the seventh member in a class of 61 submarines. It has deployed to every operational theater around the world ever since.
The submarine circumnavigated the globe and transited the Panama Canal in 1984 and participated in Operations Desert Shield/Storm in the early 1990s.
Master Chief Electronics Technician Tomas A. Garcia, who was the chief of the boat on Dallas from 2010 to 2012, said the Dallas was known for delivering Navy SEALs, but the equipment was removed shortly before he reported aboard. Guided-missile submarines and some Virginia-class submarines carry the dry-deck shelters now, he added.
Roberts, Houdeshell and Garcia all said serving aboard Dallas was the highlight of their careers.
Garcia, a Texas native who is now the department master chief for Basic Enlisted Submarine School, led about 100 Naval Submarine School students to the pier on Monday so they could attend a submarine homecoming for the first time.
"There is no better way for them to really get a full appreciation for what it means to deploy on a submarine," Garcia said.
Seeing the families and feeling the excitement of the homecoming, Garcia added, "really drives home" the importance of the submarine force's missions and of the family support at home. Garcia said he also watched "The Hunt for Red October" with his family on Sunday night to celebrate the Dallas' impending arrival.
Seaman Jose Cruz, 19, cheered "Hooyah, Dallas" with his classmates as the Dallas arrived next to the pier. Cruz said he felt as if he was being welcomed into the traditions of the submarine force.
"For all of us," he said, "this will be something to remember."
Houdeshell said Monday was an emotional day because he was thrilled to see his family and see the sailors reunited with their families, especially in time for Thanksgiving, but he also knew that after he brought his ship in "she's not going to go out and do it again."
"I think the real measure of the Dallas is the crews that served on the Dallas and have gone out throughout the fleet," he said. "Even when the ship is gone you will still have the Dallas spirit out in the fleet from the sailors that served on board."
The submarine itself may live on too, as a centerpiece for a maritime museum. A nonprofit foundation, the Dallas Maritime Museum Foundation, plans to build a museum featuring Navy ships and other vessels named after the city.
"As much as I hate to see my old ship eventually be decommissioned," Roberts said, "I think memorializing her in Dallas would be a perfect ending to a great career."