This post has been updated with a statement from the Navy.
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is underway for the first time since its deployment was interrupted for 55 days to battle a COVID-19 outbreak that infected almost a quarter of the crew, USNI has learned.
The aircraft carrier left the pier at Naval Base Guam with more than half of its crew to start workups to return to its deployment. This first underway will likely be brief and consist of basic drills to certify the crew can handle the carrier after the extended time away from sea, Navy officials told USNI News.
The carrier has been in port since pulling into Guam on March 27, after an outbreak of COVID-19 was discovered on the carrier in the midst of its Pacific deployment. The outbreak infected more than 1,000 sailors of the 4,800 sailors aboard and resulted in the death of Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr.
Since the end of April, the Navy has undergone the process of moving sailors back aboard after keeping them in isolation for at least 14 days and requiring each sailor to test negative twice for COVID-19. As of Sunday, 2,900 sailors had moved aboard the carrier after the quarantine period on Guam.
“We are scaling our manning on board based on our mission requirement,” Capt. Carlos Sardiello, Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer, said in a statement.
“Carrier qualification requires fewer personnel than other missions, and bringing fewer Sailors on board will enable enhanced social distancing while underway.”
This week, the Navy announced Theodore Roosevelt has begun preparing to take the ship to sea by starting a “fast cruise,” a pier-side drill in which a ship’s crew tests its systems ahead of taking the ship to sea.
“The ship will commence underway training and carrier qualifications to support the air wing’s return to operational readiness. During the underway, the ship will leave sailors ashore that are not required for these evolutions,” reads a statement from the carrier.
“This will enable the ship to conduct training at sea while personnel left in Guam can support the recovery of the rest of the crew who remain in quarantine or isolation. During this transition, the ship will enforce strict cleaning protocols and maintain social distancing as part of the phased approach to returning the ship to operations.”
The length of the pause requires the ship’s crew and the embarked Carrier Air Wing 11 to requalify to operate as a team before returning to deployment. Wednesday’s underway will be the first of several to return the ship to fighting shape.
“It feels great to be back at sea,” said Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9, said in a statement.
It’s unclear when the carrier strike group will be reconstituted. Since TR has been in Guam, the guided-missile cruiser and five guided-missile destroyers assigned to the CSG have been operating across the Pacific on other missions. Of the ships in the carrier strike group, TR and guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG-100) both saw outbreaks of COVID-19. Kidd is currently in port in San Diego with its crew in isolation while the ship is disinfected.
While the carrier is preparing to return to sea, service is in the midst of an investigation into not only the firing of former TR commander Capt. Brett Crozier after the COVID-19 outbreak on the carrier but also issues surrounding the wider operational chain of command. The report is due to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday on May 27.