PEARL HARBOR (Feb. 22, 2012) Los Angeles-class submarine USS Columbus (SSN 762) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a Western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Josh Thompson)

PEARL HARBOR - Friends and families of the USS Columbus (SSN 762) crew gathered at the submarine piers at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to say goodbye as the Los Angeles-class submarine departed for a Western Pacific deployment, Feb. 22.

"The submarine is in outstanding material condition thanks to the recent installation of the most modern combat system and the hard work of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard," said Cmdr. David Youtt, Columbus commanding officer. "Columbus is in better condition than when it was delivered to the fleet in 1994."

Since undergoing an extended shipyard period in 2009 and returning from her last deployment in June 2010, Columbus has undergone several maintenance upgrades and conducted training in preparation for this deployment.

"We are scheduled to conduct a Western Pacific deployment, however, Columbus is capable and ready to execute missions anywhere in the world," said Youtt. "We will be deploying with more than 130 Sailors and officers, and they are excited and enthusiastic to execute the tasking that they were trained for and the ship was designed to do."

With Sailors transferring to and from Columbus since returning from their last deployment, a large portion of the crew has never deployed, according to Youtt. Electronics Technician 3rd Class Kyle Lightell, who reported aboard Columbus September 2011, is really looking forward to getting underway since this will be his first deployment.

"I have done quite a bit of training and preparation for this deployment, and on that note, I cannot wait to further my knowledge by actually being able to get the hands-on experience doing my job at sea," said Lightell. "Also, I am excited about visiting different places during our port visits and experiencing their cultures and way of life."

Columbus is the fifty-first Los Angeles-class submarine and the twelfth improved version of this class, which includes a vertical launch system for Tomahawk cruise missiles and an improved hull design for under-ice operations. She completed a post shipyard availability in June 1994 in Groton, Conn., after initial construction and shakedown operations. In September 1994, the ship conducted an inter-fleet transfer to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force.