NH officer takes command of USS Alabama, ballistic-missile sub depicted in 'Crimson Tide'

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 20. 2018 11:30PM
USS Alabama returns to its homeport at Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base, Wash., in 2017. (U.S. NAVY)
About USS Alabama
USS Alabama (SSBN-731) is a nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine of the Navy's Ohio Class.

Launched: 1984

Dimensions: 560 feet long, 42 feet wide, 36.5 feet draft.

Speed: 20+ knots.

Armament: Up to 24 Trident II missiles with multiple warheads; Mk48 torpedoes (4 tubes)

Home port: Bangor, Wash.

Crew: 15 officers, 140 enlisted (on each of two crews)

When Manchester Memorial High School’s hockey team won the state championship in 1995, William Filip was a defenseman.

Now he’s defending the entire nation.

In a ceremony on Friday, Filip, 40, will take command of the USS Alabama, a ballistic-missile submarine stationed at a naval base in Washington state.

As the sub’s captain, Filip, who holds the rank of commander, has the “ultimate responsibility for the training and readiness of the crew and the readiness of the submarine to go to sea and execute our missions,” he said in a phone interview last week. “It’s a big challenge and a big responsibility.”

After high school, Filip went to the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 2000. He chose to become a submarine officer, he said, “because I like the technology and the mission: kind of going stealthily at sea. It sounded exciting.”

The Navy’s 14 ballistic-missile subs carry about 70 percent of the nation’s warheads, he said, and play a critical role in strategic deterrence.

“We’re always at sea — and our adversaries know we’re always at sea,” he said.

USS Alabama’s motto, translated from Latin, is “We dare to defend our rights.”

Ballistic-missile subs, Filip said, are “considered the most survivable” of the nation’s nuclear triad, which also includes bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“We’re always at sea and our precise location is unknown at any particular time,” he said. “Whereas people know where the bombers are; people know where the missiles are.”

In the event something were to happen, he said, “We will still be there.”

USS Alabama (US NAVY)

No claustrophobia

Filip said claustrophobia has never been a problem for him. Good thing: he’s spent as many as 90 days at a time underwater.

Submariners do have down time, watching movies and playing games; cribbage is a favorite pastime for submarine crews.

But as an officer, Filip said, “you’re always on call.”

His first assignment was the USS Maryland, another ballistic-missile submarine. He then served as weapons officer on USS Topeka and later as executive officer on USS Tucson at Pearl Harbor, the hub of the Pacific fleet.

“From my yard, I could actually see the USS Arizona memorial,” he said. “It just kind of brings it all home, the service to the country and the heritage of the Pearl Harbor base itself.”

In between sea assignments, Filip did shore duty, including two stints at the Pentagon.

Filip said the best part of his job is the people with whom he serves. “They’re all intelligent, talented, hard-working people that look forward to going to work and serving their country,” he said.

Each sub has two crews that rotate so the boat can remain at sea virtually full-time. Filip will command Alabama’s Gold crew and has high praise for its 165 members.

“It’s a very complex piece of machinery and everyone has their role, and they all know how to do it very well,” he said. 

His kids inspire him

Filip’s brother, Dana, still lives here and works for Manchester Water Works. Their parents are both deceased, but Dana Filip said he knows they’d be proud of their sub commander son.

William Filip met his wife, Kelley, at Southside Junior High; they dated all through high school. They married in 2002 and have a daughter, Reagan, 10, and a son, James, 6. The family moved to Washington over Christmas break.

Filip said his wife has always been supportive of his mission. And he said his kids are his inspiration. 

“They kind of represent the future. And I have this opportunity to serve the country and it’s for them, for the future,” he said. “For all of the next generation.”

swickham@unionleader.com


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