KITTERY, Maine — In a bittersweet ceremony, it was clear that the legacy of the U.S.S. Miami will be carried by its crew even as the submarine was officially decommissioned Friday.
More than 100 people — both military and civilian and their families — attended the ceremony inside the main auditorium at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
The Miami's first commanding officer, retired Capt. Thomas Mader, recalled how the Los Angeles-class attack submarine, which was launched in 1988, had a rocky start as its commissioning was delayed, much to the frustration of the first crew.
Nonetheless, he added they overcame the challenge and the third naval vessel bearing the name Miami was put into service June 30, 1990.
"All of it made for a wonderful ride," Mader said, adding he wished the current crew "fair winds and smooth seas."
"You have weathered some uncertain times," Mader said.While a decommissioning ceremony is usually somber, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Ken Perry, commander of Submarine Group 2, said the focus should remain on the success of the Miami and its crew during the past 23 years.Although he never served aboard the Miami, Perry said the submarine earned a wide-spread reputation as a "hot boat" after serving on a dozen deployments in the North Atlantic Ocean, in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Adriatic Sea and in the Persian Gulf.
In 1991, the Miami became to "the first submarine since World War II to fire in two combat theaters." He added they conducted "back-to-back combat missions" by firing tomahawk missiles into Iraq and Kosovo.
"It's the people that makes the technology work," Perry said.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Rolf Spelker, commander of the U.S.S. Miami, said the crew should take pride in their accomplishments as they continue a long line of service.
"There's a special bond between a sailor and a ship — we depend on each other," Spelker said, adding the crew continues to prepare the submarine for inactivation.
Spelker said some of the crew has already been reassigned. More will be released for other duties in October and the remainder of the crew will finish their tour aboard the Miami by December.
As part of the inactivation process which began in the fall, many key components, including the propeller shaft, from the Miami have been and will be used on other submarines.
Spelker said the $54 million inactivation process — which includes defueling the reactor, dismantling the engineering sections and removing electrical systems — should be complete by spring of 2015.
The Miami, which was the Navy's 44th Los Angeles-class attack submarine, sustained about $400 million in damages from a fire while it was undergoing an upgrade at the shipyard May 23, 2012.
In 2013, former civilian painter Casey James Fury, who was 24, was sentenced to serve 205 months in federal prison and was fined up to $500,000 for the damages as well as restitution for those injured during the four-alarm fire.
Although the Navy expected the Miami to serve for another decade, Perry said the damage caused by the extensive fire in 2012 made restoration too costly — especially with the demanding needs of the fleet and the shipyards.
"It was a tough decision, a prudent decision and the right decision for the submarine force," Perry said.
Perry praised the hard work of the military and civilian employees at the historic facility.
"The very top shipyard for overhauling submarines is right here in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard," Perry said.