It’s not often one can proclaim the end of an era without exaggerating.

“But it’s the end of an era,” Lt. j.g. Craig Clark said Monday of last weekend’s departure of the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land from its home port of La Maddalena on the Italian island of Sardinia.

The U.S. Navy is ending more than three decades of presence — first marked by the Land’s departure Saturday — on the pristine island of Santo Stefano in the archipelago.

The base itself is slated to close for good Feb. 28, Navy Region Europe spokesman Scott Campbell said.

The closure ends a 36-year history of U.S. presence, when a secret agreement between the U.S. and Italian governments — without the consent of Parliament at the time — set up the base at the height of the Cold War.

Emory S. Land sailed earlier than anticipated, leaving Saturday morning instead of Monday, as officials hoped to get it out in advance of an approaching storm, officials said. It now will be home-ported in Bremerton, Wash., and will undergo several months of repair work.

“There have been mixed emotions,” said Clark, who for more than a year served as the ship’s navigator before becoming the base spokesman.

“The local [Italians] are very saddened by the end of the presence,” he said, recalling an off-base Italian cell phone dealer who rejoiced with each of the ship’s return to the home port. “Those were his best selling days.”

“But for the ship’s crew, while leaving is sad, coming and going is all part of the job in the Navy.”

The tender sailed with a crew of about 850 sailors, Clark said. Its departure shrinks the base’s population by about 1,600, including sailors and their families.

A skeleton staff of about 150 servicemembers remains, with that number shrinking to about 50 by December, he said. Both sailors and families now total about 275. The base also employed 88 Department of Defense civilians, 90 contractors and 178 local employees.

The base was home to naval support staff, the submarine tender and Submarine Squadron 22.

“Our mission has changed,” Clark said. “We’re now here to shut down, and not support the submarine tender.”

The U.S. Navy’s presence at La Maddalena has been marred by controversy and a campaign led by the island’s governor, Renato Soru, to expel the military from an island noted for its pristine wildlife and marine reserve.

While no U.S. submarines permanently are based at La Maddalena, that had not quieted some Italians and politicians who publicly protested the U.S. presence and the base’s assets to support nuclear submarines that stop there while transiting the Mediterranean Sea from the States.

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