NORFOLK, Va. – The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (IKE) returned home to Naval Station Norfolk July 18 following a six-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation.
It was the third homecoming in as many days for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (IKE CSG). The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG 58) returned to Nofolk July 16 and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) returned to its homeport in Naval Station Mayport, Fla. July 17.
Additionally, more than 1,800 Navy aviators from the nine squadrons of Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) returned to their home bases at Naval Air Station Oceana, Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and Naval Air Station Jacksonville July 13.
The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) will return to Norfolk July 23. Meanwhile, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mitscher (DDG 57) and USS Mahan (DDG 72) remain on deployment and will return to Norfolk at a future date.
In addition to homecoming news, it was announced that the courageous efforts of the IKE CSG’s Sailors were recognized by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker with the Navy Unit Commendation for operational excellence.
As early as Dec. 28, 2020, Eisenhower’s crew, along with additional personnel temporarily assigned to the IKE CSG deployment were required to receive COVID-19 tests and undergo a restriction-of-movement period to ensure the health and safety of the crew during the pandemic.
The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group departed Norfolk for deployment Feb. 18 after successfully completing a six-week, historic composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX). This year’s COMPTUEX included a NATO vignette and incorporated integrated training with SEALs from Naval Special Warfare Group 2 for the first time in recent history.
While in 6th Fleet, the IKE CSG supported national security interests in Europe through increased theater cooperation and maintaining a forward naval presence. While in the Atlantic Ocean and transiting through the Mediterranean Sea, the IKE CSG conducted Exercise Lightning Handshake 21, a U.S.-led, bi-lateral maritime exercise with the Royal Moroccan Navy and Royal Moroccan Air Force. The strike group also participated in Exercise Sea Shield 21, a multinational naval exercise hosted by Romania, alongside ships from nine different nations to conduct operations across the entire spectrum of naval warfare. The IKE CSG also worked alongside the Israeli navy and conducted passing exercises with the Hellenic, Italian, Albanian and Turkish navies.
In 5th Fleet, the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group and French Navy (Marine Nationale) Charles de Gaulle Carrier Strike Group (CDGSG) conducted dual carrier operations in the Arabian Sea. Shortly after the dual carrier operations, the IKE CSG ships participated in submarine familiarization exercises and conducted passing exercises with the Canadian Navy in the Arabian Sea and later with the Egyptian Navy in the Red Sea. The strike group’s ships also participated in joint air operations in support of maritime surface warfare exercises with the United Arab Emirates, U.S. Coast Guard, Joint Aviation Command, Royal Saudi Naval Forces and U.S. Air Forces Central.
Embarked to Eisenhower, CVW-3 supported both missions Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS), in the Arabian Sea as a continuation of the United States’ commitment to maritime security, stability, as well as to ensure safe passage and deescalate tensions throughout international waters in 5th Fleet.
During its final month in 5th Fleet, the IKE CSG provided naval aviation support for the responsible, deliberate and safe drawdown of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan April 28 to June 23 in support of OFS. CVW-3 conducted a total of 6,100 sorties and 12,401 flight hours throughout the strike group’s deployment.
The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group sailed more than 190,000 nautical miles, operating dynamically across multiple fleets with our NATO allies, partners and friends. The strike group’s ships completed multiple strait and choke point transits, including the Strait of Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Bab el Mandeb.
“As the flagship of the strike group, we maneuvered IKE into the right battlespace for launching and recovering air wing missions ashore and over the horizon,” said Capt. Campagna. “IKE Sailors operated decisively and safely with a clear sense of purpose.”
For the U.S. and coalition force drawdown support mission, the Vella Gulf provided integrated air and missile defense for the IKE CSG.
Vella Gulf completed multiple transits through the Strait of Hormuz while escorting the United States Naval Ships USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE 7) and USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14) as well as other motor vessels, ensuring the United States’ continued commitment to uphold freedom of movement and maneuverability in theater. The ship participated in Exercise Eager Defender in the Northern Arabian Gulf June 8-9, which consisted of tactical maneuvers, live-fire gunnery exercises and drills for both maritime infrastructure protection and high value unit defense. Other participating units included the U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship USS Thunderbolt (PC 12), U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Monomoy (WPB 1326), and Kuwaiti vessels, KNS Al-Garoh (P 3725) and KNS Istiqlal.
“Team 72 faced one of the most rigorous deployment schedules of anyone in the fleet, and these outstanding Sailors made it all look easy,” said Capt. Michael P. Desmond, commanding officer, USS Vella Gulf (CG 72). “The Sailors of Vella Gulf worked extremely hard in enabling our ship to provide the necessary support to the IKE CSG across many missions during this deployment with total professionalism.”
Desmond added that Vella Gulf’s crew embodied and epitomized the highest caliber of resilience over the last 18 months and that their determination and focus was a daily inspiration for each other throughout deployment.
Thomas Hudner’s operations in 6th Fleet included participation in maritime exercises Sea Shield 21 as well as BALTOPS 50, a premier maritime-focused exercise that occurred in the Baltic Region between 16 NATO nations and two U.S. partner nations June 6-18. The ship conducted bi-lateral maritime exercises with the Hellenic Navy, presence operations alongside NATO allies in the Black Sea and provided continued support to 6th Fleet mission tasking while in the Norwegian Sea.
“The crew exceeded each and every one of my expectations and they should be as proud of their work as I am of them. For a multitude of missions and exercises, they did it all and they did it well,” said Cmdr. Bo Mancuso, commanding officer, USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116). “I am incredibly proud of everyone’s performance and the keystone roles they played for our contribution as part Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group’s 2021 mission. Serving with them has been an absolute pleasure.”
Laboon provided close escort and horizon reference unit duties for the CDGSG’s air operations in the Arabian Sea. The ship also conducted maritime interdiction operations such as counter-narcotics and counter-smuggling against violent extremist organizations in support of regional security and stability in 5th Fleet.
“Laboon’s Sailors executed at a high level to accomplish all of our tasking out there. I am thankful that the crew remained safe throughout the deployment, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. They’ve all risen to the challenge and made significant sacrifices,” said Cmdr. Chuck Spivey, commanding officer, USS Laboon (DDG 58). “I’m proud that the crew decided to fight back against COVID-19 and because of that, 98 percent of our command has been vaccinated.”
Operating across both U.S. 5th and 6th Fleets, Laboon conducted port visits to Spain; Bahrain; Qatar; Djibouti and Romania with pier-limited liberty for COVID-19 mitigations. For their port visit to Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Laboon was among the first ships to have the opportunity to conduct off-base liberty in U.S. 6th Fleet in more than a year since the start of the global pandemic.
All port visits and Navy Morale Welfare & Recreation activities provided for the strike group’s Sailors were carefully planned and carried out while in full compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense and host nation COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“Deployment is tough, but a COVID deployment is even tougher,” said Operations Specialist Second Class, Allen Oldfield, a Sailor aboard Laboon. “I’m just grateful that we made it home safely and got to experience at least one port visit while we were out there.”
Laboon conducted maritime security operations in the Black Sea alongside NATO allies and partners with a focus on maritime security, regional stability, and enhanced interoperability while working in 6th Fleet.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is a multiplatform team of ships, aircraft and more than 5,000 Sailors, capable of carrying out a wide variety of missions around the globe. The Navy provides a ready, flexible force capable of responding to a broad range of contingencies.
Ships of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, commanded by Rear Adm. Scott F. Robertson, include the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), commanded by Capt. Paul F. Campagna; the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Monterey (CG 61), commanded by Capt. Joseph A. Baggett, and USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), commanded by Capt. Michael P. Desmond; Destroyer Squadron 22, commanded by Capt. Scott A. Jones, ships include the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mitscher (DDG 57), commanded by Cmdr. Thomas McCandless, USS Laboon (DDG 58), commanded by Cmdr. Charles Spivey, USS Mahan (DDG 72) commanded by Cmdr. Chris Cummins, and USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), commanded by Cmdr. Bo Mancuso.
Squadrons of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3, commanded by Capt. Marcos A. Jasso, embarked on Eisenhower include the “Fighting Swordsmen” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 32, “Gunslingers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 105, “Wildcats” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131, “Rampagers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 83; “Dusty Dogs” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 7; “Swamp Foxes” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 74; “Screwtops” of Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 123; “Zappers” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 130, and a detachment from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 40 “Rawhides.”