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The Nuclear deterrent

Coastal Georgia's Silent Service

April 23, 2003
by Ben Roberts

Kings Bay Naval Base-- The U.S.S. Rhode Island. It's 650-feet long, weighs 18,000 tons, and one of the most complex machines ever built.

"It's a huge ship, compared to a fast attack submarine,” said Commander Pete Clarke. “The only thing more complex is the space shuttle."

Inside, The boat is long on technology, "The right order to give is 'Up scope,'" says Chief of the Boat, Steve Lennon. “The outboard station controls the angle of the ship."

But it's short on space. “It's pretty small living quarters." Kelvin Stover and other crewmen say that closeness is what they like best about working on a submarine. "I'm part of a team,” said MT3 Stover. “And when everyone works together, good things happen."

"I love submarines just for the small community and the comraderie," says crewman MM1 Eric Luton.

Master Chief Steve Lennon shows us, no inch of space is wasted. What would be the war room in time of crisis is normally a small lounge for the crew. "We carry first run movies that Hollywood sends us."

The wardroom, where senior officers eat, also has another purpose. "This also doubles as an operating room." There's almost constant action in the galley where cooks prepare four meals a day. The 160-man crew eats in shifts because there's not much room in the mess.

The crew sleeps in a 9-man bunkroom, pretty cramped quarters for nine guys, but actually bigger than any other U.S. sub. The rack here is only five and a half feet long. There's a little room underneath to store belongings, and this part of the boat is called the missile compartment with good reason. These guys are sleeping right next to a big tube that may be carrying a nuclear weapon.

Those missiles are 44-feet long Trident D-II’s that can carry multiple nuclear warheads, capable of reaching targets several thousand miles away.

Topside on the Rhode Island, you can see 24-hatches. Under each one could be one of those huge missiles. It's what the commander calls the ultimate insurance policy against an attack on America.

"The mission of the ballistic missile submarines is to provide strategic deterrence," Pete says. The missiles aren't the only nuclear components of the Rhode Island. Inside the rear of the boat, off limits to us, is a nuclear propulsion plant that powers the sub.

"We are totally self-sufficient and able to travel extended distances, extended periods of time staying submerged and undetected the entire time," says Commander Clark.

Right now, the Rhode Island crew is busy getting this boomer ready to spend two and a half months at sea. "You get lonely. You miss family, but most of the time it's very fulfilling," said Kelvin.

A constant stream of submariners come and go under the watchful eye of armed guards. "I don't think there's anywhere where the professionalism and the quality of workmanship compares to that of the sub force,” said Clark. “You ought to be very proud of the young guys that are serving there."

And every time those guys step off their boat, they salute the American flag. A simple reminder that their secret work on this underwater home of the brave is protecting the land of the free.

When Georgia's nuclear submarines are at sea, no one outside the crew knows their exact location. The boomers have a large patrol zone, but their day-to-day location is so top secret, not even top military brass on shore know it.

One other interesting fact, there is a Trident submarine called the U.S.S. Georgia. It's based at the other U.S. nuclear sub facility in Washington state.

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