On 12 May 1984, the LOS ANGELES-class fast-attack submarine USS SALT LAKE CITY (SSN-716) was placed in commission. Nearly twenty years later, on 17 March 2004, the boat made her television debut on the fiftieth episode of the History Channel’s “Mail Call,” hosted by Full Metal Jacket star and Marine Corps veteran Gunnery Sargeant R. Lee Ermey. “We get lots of e-mail asking about submarines and what it’s like to be a Submariner,” Ermey said, “so we’re here to answer the mail.” Robert Lihani, executive producer of “Mail Call,” noted that it was the first time they had done an entire show on one specific topic.
Just a few months later, SALT LAKE CITY was one of seventeen submarines that were surge deployed to take part in Summer Pulse ’04, the first exercise the Navy undertook after implementation of the Fleet Response Plan (FRP). (The FRP requires 80% of the submarine fleet to be able to respond to “emergent fleet requirements” at any time.) In just a few months, SALT LAKE CITY steamed a total of 36,000 nautical miles and made port calls in Guam, Japan, and Singapore.
On 26 October 2005, after 21 years of service, SALT LAKE CITY was retired from active duty in a special ceremony at Naval Base Point Loma in California. But the boat’s career was not quite over—SALT LAKE CITY still had to return to Groton, CT by crossing the Arctic Ocean beneath the polar ice pack. On 17 November, she surfaced through more than a foot of ice, becoming the first “first-flight” LOS ANGELES-class sub ever to do so. One Sailor was awarded his dolphins, indicating his qualification in submarines, on the ice. Many Sailors had their photos taken with one of Santa’s helpers and made sure to pass along letters written by their children. “My son wants a Power Wheels for Christmas,” said Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Adam Smith. “It will be really cool to tell him that I delivered the letter to the North Pole myself.” Just before the boat submerged, her crew committed the ashes of former Arctic Submarine Laboratory employee Gene Bloom, who had spent much of his life studying the forbidding environment at the top of the world, to the deep.
Before heading on to Groton to offload weapons and non-essential equipment, SALT LAKE CITY’s crew joined the Order of Magellan by circling the globe. Magellan’s epic round-the-world journey, which began in 1519, lasted 1,122 days. The sub made the trip in less than one hour.