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A long voyage but the same weather for crew of Providence

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: theday.com

Published March 19. 2013 4:00PM   Updated March 21. 2013 2:09PM
Tim Cook/The Day
Four-month-old Aubrey Conway greets her father, Third-class Electronic Technician (ET3) Jarred Conway, as Conway holds his baby daughter Tuesday for the first time. The crew of the Los Angeles-class, fast-attack submarine USS Providence (SSN 719) returned to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton Tuesday after a seven-month deployment.

Groton — The USS Providence returned home Tuesday after an unusually long deployment. Instead of the typical six months, the crew was gone for more than seven.

Cmdr. Michael Quan, the commanding officer of the Providence (SSN 719), said the operational commander at the U.S. Central Command needed the Providence to stay out longer, and "Providence met the call."

"There's a natural disappointment because you expect to be back on a certain date, but the crew understands this is our job. This is what we do," he said.

Navy leaders have said that submarines could occasionally be deployed longer because the fleet of attack submarines is shrinking as the aging Los Angeles-class boats retire. Providence's extended deployment was due to operational requirements which have occasionally occurred but are not the norm, according to the submarine force.

The Navy also told Congress that some attack submarine deployments could be canceled because of sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that took effect this month. As of Tuesday, no deployments had been canceled.

The Providence left the Naval Submarine Base Aug. 10 — a rainy, cold, miserable day. On Tuesday, Quan said it was just rainy and cold.

"It's not miserable out," he said, "because we're home now."

Quan said he couldn't have asked for a better group to deploy with and he thanked the families for their support.

Twenty-eight sailors earned their qualifications in submarine warfare, 26 sailors advanced in rank and 24 re-enlisted during the deployment. The submarine traveled more than 38,000 nautical miles and stopped in Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Spain. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras sent Quan a letter congratulating him and the crew on a successful deployment.

The weather did little to damper the spirits at the homecoming. As soon as the Los Angeles-class submarine approached the pier, the families rushed out from under a tent to get closer and cheer.

"Rain, snow, sleet, I would be happy no matter what," Leighanne Ludington said.

Ludington and her husband, Alexander, have only spent 20 days together since their June wedding. The Providence went out to sea this summer for training, then deployed after just over a week in port. Alexander Ludington, a lieutenant on board, returned home the day before his 28th birthday.

Five babies were born during the deployment. Three of the fathers, Michael Phillips, Jarred Conway and Shawn McBlain, met their daughters for the first time Tuesday.

It was also the first time Conway, an electronics technician, deployed on a submarine and qualified in submarine warfare. After so many firsts, Conway said it was "amazing" and "exhilarating" to be home with his wife, Stephanie, and first-born child, Aubrey.

After Phillips, the hospital corpsman, or doc, on board, was reunited with his wife, Lisa, and met his 3½-month-old daughter, Lacey Marie, he said, "Coming home to this, seeing them on the pier, is truly amazing."

"This has been a long time coming," added Lisa Phillips. "There have been four different homecoming dates. It has been surreal up until this moment."

The deployment, Michael Phillips said, seemed never-ending at times.

"But I'll never forget it," he said, "because little Lacey is here, and she's happy to see her dad."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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