Key West Decommissioning, and (Commissioning)
Capping an impressive 36-year career, the third U.S. Navy ship (the first being a Civil War gunboat while the second was a WWII-era frigate) to be named after Key West, Florida is headed for imminent decommissioning and recycling.
USS Key West (SSN-722), a Flight II (VLS equipped) Los Angeles class hunter-killer, was ordered from Newport News on 13 August 1981 and commissioned just over six years later on 12 September 1987– appearing in the pages of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising more than a year before she actually entered service.
Key West spent the beginning of her career on the East Coast but since 1996 has been a Pacific-based boat.
In 2001, she launched Tomahawks into Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom following the September 11 attack, then later did the same during Iraqi Freedom in January 2003.
Now, her career has come to a close.
A couple of weeks ago, she arrived at Kitsap 25 days after she shoved off from Naval Base Guam for the last time, switching from the control of forward-deployed SUBRON15 in preparation for decommissioning.
Once decommissioned, Key West will leave 24 of the 62-strong 688 class still in service, with all of the remainder being Flight II and III boats.
The current USS Key West visited her namesake city– formerly a big submarine base– in 1987, for a week-long celebration after commissioning, then again in 1992 and 1994 while on the East Coast, but hasn’t been there since. While both the Army and Navy maintain facilities on the island, there hasn’t been a ship stationed there since U.S. Naval Submarine Base Key West closed in 1974.
With that being said, the Conch Republic is set to greet PCU USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123), currently building at Ingalls in Pascagoula, for the new destroyer’s commissioning on 13 May before a crowd of as many as 5,000 visitors.
Higbee won’t be the first Burke “brought to life” at the windswept southernmost point, as USS Spruance (DDG 111) was commissioned there in October 2011.