By Naval Submarine Support Center, New London Public Affairs

GROTON, Conn. (NewsDakota.com) – The USS North Dakota (SSN 784) has completed its second six-month deployment and returned to the boat’s homeport at Naval Submarine Base, New London in Groton, Connecticut, Jan. 11.

The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine crew, commanded by Capt. Mark Robinson, was welcomed by a parking lot full of socially-distanced friends and families with signs and flowers, a welcoming that Robinson called a “great feeling” for him and his crew.

“I’m excited for each one of them,” Robinson said. “Deployment is always tough on families, but these families had to do it with the added stress of COVID, tropical storms, power outages, and snow storms on top of all the life events that usually make deployment stressful.”

Families waved signs and banners from their socially-distanced vehicles as the crew made their way off the boat after 186 days. But two lucky families were first in line.

“It was my first deployment,” remarked Ashley Hayes, spouse of Senior Chief Petty Officer William Hayes and winner of the traditional “first hug” lottery ticket from the boat’s family readiness group. “I have three small kids, so it was a lot, but we made it. We got through it.”

The boat’s “first kiss” award went to Samantha Williams, who joked that her husband Senior Chief Petty Officer Seth Williams would be shy for the cameras.

“This is his last deployment,” Williams said. “This is such a big deal. We’ve been married for 14 years this year and we’re just so glad that they’re home.”

First-time deployer Seaman Josue Charlenord, a fire control technician from Immokalee, Fla., said he was excited to wear his “fish” – the colloquial phrase for the dolphins represented on the submarine warfare qualification pin – on his dress uniform as the boat returned to homeport.

“I am also excited to see my family, friends, and loved ones after being away from them for so long,” Charlenord added. “And telling them stories of my successful deployment.”

Robinson praised his crew’s level of qualifications as the greatest accomplishment during the deployment, stating that “every single member of North Dakota is now qualified in submarines.”

“This is the most qualified ship I have ever been on and their qualification level is representative of the skills they have gained,” Robinson said. “We set a goal at the beginning of the year to improve our qualification rate and we exceeded our own expectations.”

In total, 38 sailors earned their qualifications in submarine warfare. The crew, operating mostly in the European theater, traveled over 42,000 nautical miles and pulled into two liberty ports – but were limited to the pier due to COVID restrictions.

“I will never forget the sacrifices the crew made to accomplish the mission and bring us home safely,” Robinson said. “I consider it an incredible blessing and honor to be a member of this team.”

North Dakota executed the chief of naval operation’s maritime strategy in supporting national security interests and maritime security operations. Fast-attack submarines are multi-mission platforms enabling five of the six Navy maritime strategy core capabilities – sea control, power projection, forward presence, maritime security, and deterrence. They are designed to excel in anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship warfare, strike warfare, special operations, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, irregular warfare and mine warfare. Fast-attack submarines project power ashore with special operations forces and Tomahawk cruise missiles in the prevention or preparation of regional crises.

North Dakota was commissioned Oct. 25, 2014 and is the second U.S. warship named after the Peace Garden State. It is 377 feet long with a beam of 34 feet and a crew of approximately 132 total officers and enlisted sailors.