USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is back in San Diego after completing a deployment that was cut in half with two months of battling a COVID-19 outbreak that kept the carrier at a pier in Guam.
The carrier left San Diego in January for a planned Western Pacific deployment that was interrupted in late March after the outbreak was discovered following a TR port visit to Vietnam.
More than 1,200 of the 4,800 sailors assigned to the carrier tested positive for COVID-19, and Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., died from complications of the virus.
The outbreak on the carrier was the biggest and most visible fight the Defense Department has had with the coronavirus. Lessons learned related to cleaning the ship, returning the crew to health and dealing with the outbreak from a leadership perspective have tricked back to the Navy and the Pentagon.
The Navy’s initial response to the carrier’s outbreak resulted in the removal of the commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, by then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly. Modly, in turn, resigned after a speech aboard the carrier in which he was critical of the former commander was leaked to the press.
Meanwhile, the crew moved ashore and began the process of slowly purging the virus under new leadership.
“The crew of TR persevered displaying uncommon fortitude and tenacity in the face of uncertainty to meet expectations in a crisis,” Capt. Carlos Sardiello, commanding officer of Theodore Roosevelt, said in a statement.
“This recovery of the ship and the crew on deployment is a testament to the professionalism of the young men and women of the TR who turned a potentially demoralizing downward spiral into a symbol of inspiration and hope against adversity.”
In a separate letter to family of the crew, Sardiello said the crew’s “response during an international pandemic served as a model for other surface combatants to emulate and provided ready, relevant operating procedures to turn, control and halt the threat of the virus. The recovery of the ship and the crew is a testament to your sailors’ fortitude and professionalism.”
The carrier got back underway in early June and drilled with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the Philippine Sea as part of a round of dual-carrier exercises in the Western Pacific before heading back to California. In addition to the sailor lost to COVID-19 complications, Aviation Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Justin Calderone died during a medical emergency last week aboard the carrier.
The return of the carrier follows the fly-off of the air wing and the return of guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) and guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG-59) to San Diego.
The Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif.-based Carrier Air Wing 11 departed the carrier Tuesday, with squadrons returning to fields in California, Washington and Virginia. The two surface combatants reached San Diego on Wednesday.
While Theodore Roosevelt was in Guam, its escorts were deployed across the Pacific for other operations. Bunker Hill sailed with USS America (LHA-6) in the South China Sea while operating near a natural mineral rights dispute between China and Malaysia.
“The crew executed a broad spectrum of missions over the last six months while serving as Air Defense Commander for Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9,” Capt. Shea Thompson, commanding officer of Bunker Hill, said in a Wednesday statement.
“During the course of our six-month deployment, we supported multiple freedom of navigation operations directly enhancing maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.”
Other escorts were tasked to the expanded U.S. counter-trafficking effort in U.S. Southern Command. Destroyer USS Kidd (DDG-100) operated in the Eastern Pacific but suffered its own COVID-19 outbreak and had to return to San Diego.
The following are the units that deployed with the carrier in January.
Carrier Strike Group 9
The San Diego-based CSG 9 commands the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and is embarked on the carrier.
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), homeported in San Diego, Calif.
Carrier Air Wing 11
Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., is embarked aboard Theodore Roosevelt and includes a total of nine squadrons and detachments:
- The “Tomcatters” of VFA-31 – Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) – from Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.
- The “Golden Warriors” of VFA-87 from Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.
- The “Blue Diamonds” of VFA-146 from Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif.
- The “Black Knights” of VFA-154 from Naval Air Station Lemoore – Calif.
- The “Gray Wolves” of VAQ-142 – Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) – from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island – Wash.
- The “Liberty Bells” of VAW-115 – Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) – from Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif.
- The “Providers” of VRC-30 – Detachment – Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) – from Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
- The “Eight Ballers” of HSC-8 – Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) – from Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
- The “Wolf Pack” of HSM-75 – Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) – from Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
USS Bunker Hill (CG-52), homeported in San Diego, Calif.
Destroyer Squadron 23
Destroyer Squadron 23 is based in San Diego and is embarked on the carrier.
- USS Russell (DDG-59), homeported in San Diego, Calif.
- USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60), homeported in San Diego, Calif.
- USS Pinckney (DDG-91), homeported in San Diego, Calif.
- USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115), homeported in San Diego, Calif.
- USS Kidd (DDG-100), homeported, Everett, Wash.