With a blue lei adorning her sail, USS LOUISVILLE (SSN-724) arrived at her homeport in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 13 May 2003. She had been on a routine six-month deployment when she was dispatched to the Middle East to support the Global War on Terror as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By the time the boat returned home, she had been underway for more eight and a half months and had launched multiple TOMAHAWK cruise missiles. Her commanding officer, Commander Michael Jabaley, had nothing but praise for LOUISVILLE’s hard-working crew. “You might think when the ship gets extended on deployment the crew would get discouraged,” he said. “I never saw any indication of that. They were always upbeat, positive and energetic and they knew how important our mission was.”
It was not LOUISVILLE’s first trip to the Middle East. In late 1990, the sub had steamed 14,000 miles from San Diego to the Red Sea at high speed—traveling further faster than any vessel in history—to support Operation Desert Storm, thereby becoming the first American submarine to venture out on a war patrol since World War II. On 19 January 1991, LOUISVILLE made history again by becoming the first submarine to launch a TOMAHAWK in combat. The launch was also the first warshot of Desert Storm and the first shot fired in anger by a U.S. sub since World War II. Workers at Electric Boat in Groton, CT, where the boat had been launched in 1985, were understandably proud of her accomplishments. EB employees, spokesman Neil Ruenzel told the New London Day, have “a great deal of pride…in the subs they build. I don’t think it will surprise anyone that it performed flawlessly. That’s what our boats do.” The sub and her crew had clearly lived up to the vessel’s motto: “Best of the Breed.”
For having “distinguished itself in action against the enemy with outstanding heroism,” LOUISVILLE and her crew were awarded Navy Unit Commendations for their actions in both 1991 and 2003; Commander Jabaley, along with the skippers of three other subs, received the Bronze Star for outstanding leadership during the 2003 operation. Both crews also received a less formal award—special-edition Louisville Slugger baseball bats custom made by the Hillerick and Bradsby Company.