Last captain of USS Pittsburgh comes home for a victory lap
When Jason Deichler was a student at Chartiers Valley High School, he dreamed of joining the U.S. Navy and working as an officer on a nuclear submarine.
Now, he commands them.
Deichler was at the helm when the USS Pittsburgh made its final patrol this year. The Scott native piloted the 361-foot submarine on Feb. 25 to its final destination at the naval base in New London, Connecticut. Deichler, who took command of the sub in January 2018, spent more than a year in charge of a crew of nearly 150 people on missions covering 39,000 nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Just to be blessed with the opportunity to command a nuclear submarine meant the world to me,” Deichler said Tuesday. “But to have the Pittsburgh, it really was something special for my family and I.
“Both my wife’s and my family are from Pittsburgh. I wear Pittsburgh on my sleeve. And now I was in charge of a team that represented my city, my country and the defense of our nation.”
Deichler is back in Western Pennsylvania this week taking a victory lap of sorts in Pittsburgh, attending a number of events to commemorate the final deployment of the Los Angeles-class, fast-attack nuclear submarine.
Deichler’s return to Pittsburgh features a packed schedule. He’ll appear at the Carnegie Science Center alongside the World War II-era sub, the USS Requin, be a guest of honor at a special tribute at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, and march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
On Friday, Deichler will visit Chartiers Valley, the school he graduated from in 1995. He will be presented with a distinguished alumni award.
It was there that his lofty ambitions first began to take shape with the help of his math teacher, Dick Schubert, a World War II submarine veteran.
“He got that thought into my head and said ‘You are capable of this, and it’s a great force.’ … That’s when I really wanted to be a part of the submarine force,” said Deichler. “I knew I was capable of being a leader, and I knew I was capable of being a technical leader. So, I recognized the military was for me.”
Deichler received his commission in 1999 through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University. It would eventually lead to an opportunity to be part of the storied history of the USS Pittsburgh, which was launched in 1984 and participated in both Iraq wars, Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002.
Unfortunately for Deichler, USS Pittsburgh is part of the oldest class of attack submarines. It is being replaced by the Virginia class. A force of 60 of the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack subs, in service since the 1980s, is now down to 31.
The USS Pittsburgh will be eventually recycled.
Deichler said that even though he knew for some time that the sub’s days were numbered, he prepared his crew to stay focused on its missions.
“It’s a challenge. It’s a leadership challenge. There are a lot of bittersweet feelings with that. I fully expected that we would continue doing missions,” he said. “So, that’s how I trained my crew. That’s how we operate. We don’t operate as if we’re going to be decommissioned or inactivated. We operate as if the submarine is going to continue on.”
Even though the USS Pittsburgh and many of the older nuclear attack subs will not continue on, Deichler said it made its mark as a great submarine.
“We were the fastest submarine on deployment in six fleets. We were definitely a workhorse,” he said.
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].