GROTON, Conn.— With a wintry mix falling and the Naval Submarine Base closed on Thursday, the homecoming for the USS Virginia lacked much of the traditional fanfare.
Students from the Naval Submarine School did not march down to the pier to greet the submarine. There was no pizza and country music for the waiting families. The media was not there to document the first kiss.
But Cmdr. Steve Antcliff said none of that mattered, because now, after six months, his crew was home with their families.
“It was more low key but the important people were here,” Antcliff, the commanding officer, said in a telephone interview shortly after arriving. “Our families that supported us throughout the deployment were here for us.”
Seeing them on the pier, Antcliff said, was heartwarming.
The Virginia (SSN 774), with a crew of more than 130 sailors, left Groton Aug. 13 to conduct missions near Europe. The submarine stopped in Norway, Scotland and England. Antcliff described the crew’s performance as “outstanding.”
The base was closed Thursday to non-essential personnel, but families of the crew were allowed to drive onto the base or take a shuttle from the Submarine Force Library and Museum so they could still welcome their relatives home.
They huddled under umbrellas and a tent as the submarine pulled next to the pier. Antcliff said returning home in the snow, sleet and rain was “definitely an adventure,” but having spent the past six months in the North Atlantic, he is used to the cold.
Lt. Timothy Hawkins, spokesman for Submarine Group Two, said the weather did not complicate the sub’s arrival, and the submarine group made sure all of the families, especially those arriving from out of town, got onto the base safely.
This was the second overseas deployment for the Virginia, which was commissioned in 2004 as the first in the Navy’s newest class of next-generation attack submarines. And if all goes as planned, it will likely be the last six-month deployment with an all-male crew.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in October that the Virginia and the Groton-based USS Minnesota (SSN 783) are the first two attack submarines that female officers will join as members of the crews. Women have served on ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines since the Navy lifted its ban in 2010.
The Navy plans to assign three female officers to each submarine: a supply corps officer who will act as a mentor and two nuclear-trained officers. They will arrive at the base by January 2015.
Antcliff said he learned his submarine was selected during the deployment. He did not have many details yet, but did say he is confident the female officers will be welcomed to the crew because “everyone is excited” and there is “a great team spirit” on board.
Antcliff will celebrate one year of being in command on Saturday, as well as his 22nd wedding anniversary. He said he is grateful to his wife, Jennifer, and his children, Drew, Ally and Lainey, for their love and support, to the families of the crew for supporting their loved ones, and to the crew, who inspire him each day.
“It was an amazing deployment,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. They are a well-trained, smart, disciplined and motivated group of guys.”