USS Thomas Jefferson SSBN-618
USS Thomas Jefferson was an Ethan Allen-class nuclear-powered submarine, a submarine design that was built to carry the Polaris A-2 missile and later upgraded to Polaris A-3s. USS Thomas Jefferson was initially a fleet ballistic missile submarine that was later reclassified as an attack submarine and given the hull designation SSN-618. She was commissioned on January 4, 1963 with Commander Leon H. Rathbun commanding the Blue Crew, and Commander Charles Priest, Jr., commanding the Gold Crew.
Following shakedown training both crews of Thomas Jefferson were assigned to Submarine Squadron 14. For the next four years the crews alternated their deterrent patrols that ran out of Holy Loch, Scotland, eventually becoming the flagship for Submarine Squadron 14. Along with her various deterrent patrols, Thomas Jefferson completed special operations, one of which earned her Gold Crew a Meritorious Unit Commendation. In 1974, Thomas Jefferson was reassigned to the Pacific Fleet with a new home port at Vallejo, California. Later that year she entered the Mare Island Naval Shipyard for an overhaul, refueling, and a conversion to the Polaris A-3 missile system.
In 1976, while in the waters outside of San Diego with the Blue Crew on board, Thomas Jefferson experienced a complete loss of propulsion and electrical power. This power failure led to flooding and fire which caused a reactor scram during an Operational Reactor Safety Exam (ORSE). The crew’s proper training for just such an event helped them to avoid tragedy. This events during this power failure resulted in improved training protocol for ORSE Board Examiners.
Reclassification and Decommissioning
In order to comply with the SALT I treaty, the missile section of Thomas Jefferson was disabled in 1981. Instead, concrete blocks were placed in the ballistic missile tubes, and the ballistic missile fire-control system was removed, as well as the ship’s inertial navigation systems. It was at this time that she was reclassified as an attack submarine and re-designated SSN-618 on March 11, 1981. Following her conversion, the sub was used primarily for training, Anti-submarine warfare exercises, and other secondary duties.
Thomas Jefferson was decommissioned on January 24, 1985 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on April 30, 1986. All except for her sail was turned over to the Navy’s Nuclear-Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program located in Bremerton, Washington. Her recycling was completed on March 6, 1998. Her sail remains preserved in a park adjacent to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.