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POLARIS POINT, Guam — The USS Buffalo is to join Guam’s submarine fleet next year, replacing the USS San Francisco that ran aground in early 2005, according to Rear Adm. John M. Bird, commander of Submarine Group 7.

The Buffalo’s arrival will return Guam’s submarine strength to three, Bird said Friday shortly after a change-of-command ceremony for the commandant of the three-sub squadron. The Buffalo originally had been scheduled to arrive on Guam this fall.

No immediate plans exist for further increasing Submarine Squadron 15, which currently includes the USS Corpus Christi, USS Houston and USS Frank Cable, the only submarine tender in the Pacific Fleet, Bird said.

In January 2005, the San Francisco apparently struck an uncharted underwater mound about 402 miles south of Guam. One sailor was killed and 23 injured in the incident. The Los Angeles-class, fast-attack submarine was reassigned to Bremerton, Wash., last summer for long-term repair.

Guam and the squadron will continue to host five to eight forward-deployed submarines touring the Pacific each year, Bird said. Starting in 2007, that likely will include newly converted guided-missile submarines, known as SSGNs, which will become operational in about a year, Bird said.

Bird was on Guam on Friday to welcome Capt. Phillip Sawyer as the squadron’s newest commander and to watch him take command from Capt. Bradley R. Gehrke.

Gehrke will become Bird’s chief of staff at Submarine Group 7, based in Yokosuka.

Sawyer’s last assignment was on the Joint Staff, Operations Directorate as a branch chief for antiterrorism and force protection.

During his comments Friday, Bird called the command of Submarine Squadron 15 the most challenging job of its type.

“It is far more complex, dynamic and demanding than any other squadron command,” Bird said during his remarks on Wharf Alpha at Polaris Point. The commander oversees the tender and a mobile repair-and-replenishing ship and, with 1,800 personnel, the squadron is the largest in the world, the admiral said.

The frequent visits by forward-deployed subs also present distinct demands, Bird said.

“Each and every one of those submarines will ultimately pull into Guam for upkeep, for training, for logistics, and this squadron has to oversee each and every one of those,” he said after the ceremony.

“Not to mention the fact that Guam is located where the weather is dynamic. It’s a long flight from the United States. It’s a long way to go for any number of things, from supplies to parts to people,” Bird added. “Having said that, I would tell you, it’s well worth it because this is just an ideally strategic location.”

Sawyer said Friday he and his wife, Lisa, who have not lived on Guam before, “certainly look forward to living here and becoming a part of the community.”


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