Lance M. Bacon, Navy Times, Mar 11
NORFOLK, Va. – After a two-day delay caused by a tiny aquatic invertebrate that fouled the intakes of seawater condensers, a historic deployment got underway Wednesday morning when the carrier Theodore Roosevelt bid Virginia farewell after 28 years. The flattop is scheduled to arrive at its new home – Naval Base Coronado, California – after an eight-month world cruise.
That cruise includes the first three-carrier swap of the modern Navy. The carrier Ronald Reagan will switch its homeport from Coronado to Yokosuka, Japan, while the George Washington heads to Newport News, Virginia, for refueling and a complex overhaul scheduled for 2017. Theodore Roosevelt will take Reagan's place, as the Pentagon's Asia-Pacific strategy requires the Navy to keep a six-carrier presence in those waters. Reagan's crew has dubbed this the "three presidents cruise."
This cruise also marks the first deployment of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which will be flown by Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 125, the Tigertails. It also is the first deployment of the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air system, which networks the strike group's air, surface and underwater assets to provide situational awareness unmatched by modern technologies. In tandem with the E-2D, this cooperative targeting allows commanders to identify and destroy threats from distances well beyond the radar horizon.
While the deployment marks many beginnings, it also serves as the last deployment in which a helicopter antisubmarine squadron flies the SH-60F and H models. Upon return, the HS-11 Dragon Slayers will transition into a helicopter sea combat squadron and fly the MH-60S.
Still, the focus of Rear Adm. Andrew "Woody" Lewis is not on the history books, but the more than 6,000 sailors serving aboard five ships and the nine embarked squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 1 that comprise the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group.
"This is by far and away the most intense training we have done in preparation for a deployment, and we are more ready than we have ever been in the past," said Lewis, who is on his 11th carrier deployment. The ship has launched 12,000 aircraft since it completed RCOH in August 2013.
Though the Optimized-Fleet Response Plan does not officially begin until the fall, the TR CSG was able to conduct aggregated training and a group sail, key facets of OFRP in which ships and commanders that deploy together first train together. Lewis said the benefits of this training have been evident during work-ups, adding that the integration has given him "significantly more confidence" in the strike group.
Some pretty serious business will take place amid the carrier swaps. The Theodore Roosevelt will pass through 6th Fleet to relieve carrier Carl Vinson, now in the Persian Gulf, and take point in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. When that mission is complete, the carrier will pass through 7th and 3rd Fleets on its way to California. Once there, roughly 800 members of the 3,000-man crew will remain with the ship, and families will make the permanent change-of-station move.
Damage Controlman 1st Class (SW/AW) Daniel Hernandez is among them. This is his third ship and second float in 11 years of service.
"I know it is going to be a long cruise, but I'm looking forward to seeing what ports we get to visit," he said. "I joined the Navy to see the world, and that's exactly what I am about to get. And I am looking forward to living in sunny San Diego."
Hernandez said the carrier had gone to great lengths to ensure that the world cruise followed by PCS will go as smoothly as possible for sailors and their families, a point echoed by Capt. Daniel Grieco, the TR's skipper. He said each sailor and family's situation has been addressed on an individual basis; the command is also working personnel swaps to make sure as many as possible land on their preferred coast. Roughly 1,300 crew members will return to Hampton Roads to join the crew of George Washington.
The cruiser Normandy, and the destroyers Winston S. Churchill and Forrest Sherman, also departed Norfolk on Monday, while the destroyer Farragut deployed from its home port of Naval Station Mayport, Florida. The ships will return to the East Coast after their scheduled eight-month deployments to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. However, Normandy will be underway for nine months, as it will escort Theodore Roosevelt to its new home, then transit the Panama Canal on its return to Norfolk.
It is not common to see a crew excited about a nine-month pump at a time when the Navy is working to curtail long deployments, but the excitement was evident as Normandy's crew prepared to get underway.
"This is the ship to be on," said Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Greg Carlson. "We have the most advanced warfighting system in our class, we have an extremely focused crew and we are going around the earth together."
Neither Carlson nor the skipper has been on a circumnavigation, despite having nearly half a century of combined service. They have used the rarity as a rallying cry to motivate the sailors to excel well beyond the baseline requirements of maritime security operations. Indeed, Capt. Scott Robertson, Normandy's commanding officer, has set the bar high on what he calls an "epic" deployment. The ship has launched "A New You" campaign emphasizing personal and professional development. At its heart is the lofty goal of ensuring that every junior officer and enlisted sailor aboard when the cruiser set sail returns surface warfare qualified.
"That is a pretty ambitious goal, but I know my crew is up for it," he said.
The Theodore Roosevelt was scheduled to leave Norfolk by 8 a.m. Monday, but was delayed while the crew cleaned the intakes of Bryozoa.
The aquatic organisms are typically less than a millimeter in size, but they connect with one another to form colonies that can number in the millions. Commonly called "moss animals," Bryozoa are common in Virginia's James River, which feeds Hampton Roads, during winter months. They delayed the deployment of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush on Feb. 15, 2014, by about four hours. The aircraft carrier Enterprise had the same problem in March 2012 when Bryozoa fouled three of Big E's four main engines and five of her eight service turbine generators.
Crew members had to remove large condenser covers – some measuring more than 6 feet across – to pull gallons of moss from condenser tubes. Those intakes are located under the ship and take in seawater to cool various pieces of equipment.
TR's delay did not affect the rest of the strike group's deployment.