Commentary

Christensen: USS North Carolina headed to Pacific for the holidays

rchristensen@newsobserver.comDecember 17, 2013 

While most families are preparing for the holidays, the crew of the USS North Carolina is scheduled to deploy this week from its home port at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Destination? Somewhere in the western Pacific. Length of deployment? As long as needed, but based on past experience, probably six months.

The USS North Carolina – a $2.5 billion Virginia-class attack submarine – is the fourth ship to bear the Tar Heel State’s name.

The submarine is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles to launch against land targets and torpedoes to unleash against other ships and submarines. It is also designed to conduct long-term surveillance of land areas, provide a covert taxi service for special forces, deliver land mines, work with battle groups and carry out other assignments.

“We are incredibly fortunate to carry the great history of ships named North Carolina to sea and in particular, back to the western Pacific,” Cmdr. Richard Rhinehart, the sub’s skipper, said in an interview.

Original teak remains

The Pacific is where the most famous USS North Carolina – the battleship that was in service from 1940-47 – earned its 15 battle stars during World War II. It is now a popular state museum docked in Wilmington.

There were two previous USS North Carolinas. The first one (1824-1866) was a 74-gun man of war that was used in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. The second North Carolina (1908-1921) was a Tennessee-class armored cruiser that delivered medical supplies to Armenians who were victims of a massacre by the Turks, and which patrolled the Mediterranean during World War I.

To keep the historic connection, Rhinehart said his sub contains pieces of teak from the decks of the World War II battleship. Some of the original teak has been inlaid into the submarine decking in the control room, the CO’s stateroom, and the chief’s quarters.

The latest North Carolina was built by General Dynamics Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn., and in Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. It was commissioned in 2008 in Wilmington with guests that included veterans of the World War II battleship.

Makes own oxygen

The sub has a crew of 126 enlisted men and 17 officers. Rhinehart said he is not allowed to discuss how long the USS North Carolina will be at sea, but he said its previous deployment was from December 2011 to June 2012.

The ship makes its own oxygen and freshwater, Rhinehart said. “Our endurance is limited only by the amount of food we can carry.”

Although this is Rhinehart’s fourth tour on submarines, the USS North Carolina is his first command. An Ohio native, Rhinehart is a 1992 graduate of Miami University with a degree in mathematics, and he is a 1994 University of Michigan graduate with a master’s in aerospace engineering. He also went to nuclear propulsion officer school. The USS North Carolina has been in port for the past six months undergoing maintenance while the crew received training. The sub is 377 feet long, weighs 7,800 tons, can travel at 29 miles per hour, and can go as deep as 800 feet.

I asked the USS North Carolina’s skipper if there is anything he’d like our readers to know.

“I’d like the citizens of North Carolina to know that I have the honor of commanding some of the nation’s best and brightest sailors that our nation has to offer,” Rhinehart said. “They can be proud of the dedication, devotion and duty that our sailors display day-in and day-out, all in defense of our nation. I know that I am.”

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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