Tampa native and Navy Cmdr. Philip P. Castellano assumed command of the USS Toledo, a fast attack submarine, in October.

What's it like running a stealthy nuclear-powered submarine? Tampa native and Navy Cmdr, Philip P.Castellano is learning.
Cmdr. Philip Castellano, the new commanding officer of the fast-attack submarine USS Toledo, is rung ashore for the first time following a change of command ceremony Oct. 26 at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn. [Navy Spc. First Class Steven Hoskins]
Cmdr. Philip Castellano, the new commanding officer of the fast-attack submarine USS Toledo, is rung ashore for the first time following a change of command ceremony Oct. 26 at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn. [Navy Spc. First Class Steven Hoskins]
Published December 4 2018

In the new action movie Hunter Killer, based on the novel Firing Point, the skipper of the fast-attack submarine USS Toledo has to make life or death decisions about a situation with a Russian sub that could spark a war.

“As both Washington and Moscow prepare for what may be the beginnings of World War III, the USS Toledo — led by young, untested Captain Joe Glass — heads to the location to give aid,” according to the book description from Penguin Random House. “He soon discovers that the incident was no accident.”

In reality, the Toledo, a nuclear-powered, Los Angeles class fast-attack sub, is skippered by Cmdr. Philip P. Castellano, a 1996 Gaither High School graduate who grew up in the Northdale area.

Whether Castellano, 40, is young is a matter of perspective. As for tested, Castellano served as chemistry and radiological controls officer aboard the fast-attack sub Asheville, a department head aboard the nuclear missile sub Georgia, and executive officer aboard the fast-attack sub Pasadena, among other assignments.

Castellano, who took over the Toledo in October, told me he has yet to see Hunter Killer, but the backdrop of a submarine commander operating a $2 billion vessel capable of firing Tomahawk cruises missiles with limited or no communications from higher ups is a familiar one to him.

“It’s an incredible responsibility,” said Castellano, speaking by phone from the Navy submarine base in Groton, Conn., where the Toledo is stationed. “We have a lot on our shoulders. We go underway with mission orders in hand and have to carry them out without having to call back with verification.” As a fast-attack sub, the Toledo shadows underwater vessels from Russia and other nations; serves as an underwater intelligence, surveillance and reconassaince platform; and can deliver and recover commandos, usually Navy SEALs. “No other platform, including anything in space or in the air, can provide what we provide,” Castellano said. “The enemy knows when a satellite is going over, it knows when an airplane is flying by, but it does not know where a submarine is.” Castellano used some local flavor to put it in context. “You are on a platform that no one knows is there,” he said. “It is kind of like hanging out in the middle of Dale Mabry, but you are invisible. That is the stress. How do you deal with that, when no one knows you are there and you know where everyone is?” While Hunter Killer is fiction, Castellano and his crew of 130 may soon he shadowing the Russians in real life. The sub is scheduled to deploy to Europe early next year in the wake of a multi-national sub training exercise called Dynamic Mongoose held over the summer.

According to a German military journal, Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, called the presence of U.S. and allied submarines working together “a strong signal to Russia.”

Castellano said he is ready for the mission.

“We still have superiority over every other country,” he said. “We have the best-built submarines, with the best equipment and the best sailors. We enjoy superiority over every other country.” • • •

The Pentagon has identified four troops killed supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel Sgt. Jason Mitchell McClary, 24, from Export, Pa., died Dec. 2 in Landstuhl, Germany, as a result of injuries from an improvised explosive device Nov. 27 in Andar District, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The incident is under investigation. McClary was assigned to 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo. Three older troops died in that incident: Army Capt. Andrew Patrick Ross, 29, of Lexington, Va., and Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond, 39, of Brush Prairie, Wash., assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, 25, of Hookstown, Pa., assigned to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 60 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel; 56 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.