Wednesday, March 26, 2003


Cmdr. Charles Merkel of the USS Key West is the first submarine commander to take his crew into two combat cruises since World War II, going to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sub skipper
brings Afghan
experience to Iraq


By Gregg K. Kakesako

The skipper of the Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine USS Key West, based at Pearl Harbor, made history last week when his crew launched Tomahawk missiles at Iraq.

Cmdr. Chuck Merkel, 42, became the first submarine commander to take his crew into two combat cruises since World War II.

On Oct. 26, 2001, the Key West was the first U.S. warship to be on station in the North Arabian Sea and launched Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan along with the USS Providence, a sub from the Atlantic Fleet.

On March 21, following the air strikes against targets in Iraq two days earlier, the Key West was one of the 30 U.S. Navy and coalition warships that sent cruise missiles at command and control facilities, early-warning radar sites and surface-to-surface missile systems in Iraq.

"I feel that my previous deployments have certainly prepared me, as commanding officer, for what lies ahead, and I couldn't be more proud to lead USS Key West on deployment again to answer the nation's call," said Merkel, a 22-year Navy veteran, in a statement released by the Navy.

"This time around we have less than half the crew from last deployment, so this is a first-time deployment for many of my crew," he added. "I am completely confident in them. We've gone through extensive training, and we've worked really hard to prepare for this deployment. I'm very proud of our accomplishments from last deployment, and I am positive that we will successfully accomplish our mission."

Merkel said the crew of the 360-foot sub is key to a successful deployment.

"These are magnificent ships, and the crew is the true treasure. Each one of them makes Key West complete. Their skills, their compassion and their unique interests combine, adding to the overall strength of USS Key West."

The Key West has been away from Pearl Harbor since Jan. 24 and is armed with at least two dozen Tomahawk missiles.

During Merkel's last six-month deployment in 2001, the Key West was on its way to a liberty port in Bahrain when the crew was notified of the Sept. 11 attacks. Within minutes the submarine was diverted to the North Arabian Sea on the first sub war patrol of the 21st century.

"More than anything, I feel lucky to have been able to be in that position at that time," Merkel told the Star-Bulletin last year in reviewing his role in the strikes against Afghan targets 300 miles inland.

Four of the Key West sailors were from New York City.

Of the Afghanistan war patrol, Merkel said last year: "At first, it was hard to believe or accept what had happened. But the bottom line was that you had to believe that it was our job to do what our nation required us to do."

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