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Nearly 11 long months at sea will come to an end next Tuesday when the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and more than 2,000 sailors return to Hampton Roads after supporting operations in the European, African and Central Command areas of operation.
The homecoming, announced Wednesday by Fleet Forces Command, ends one of the longest deployments — 322 days — in nearly 40 years.
A previously published total of 314 days was incorrectly provided by Fleet Forces.
Returning to Naval Station Norfolk Feb. 7 will be the amphibious assault ship Bataan and the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde — the latter of which made the deployment in place of sister ship San Antonio, whose continued mechanical problems, now apparently repaired, prevented it from sailing. The dock landing ship Whidbey Island will pull in to its home port of Joint Expeditionary Base-Little Creek.
The sailors and Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which was aboard for nearly the entire cruise, will offload two days earlier, Feb. 5, in Morehead City, N.C.
The deployment began March 23, 2011, more than three months ahead of schedule, in part to relieve the Kearsarge ARG, which itself had deployed early to conduct humanitarian assistance in Pakistan and was extended in order to take part in last spring's combat action in Libya. Officials deployed the Bataan group directly out of advanced training without returning to port.
The Kearsarge ARG spent 8˝ months at sea and at one point went nearly four months without a port call.
The Bataan ARG deployment will exceed the longest deployment in recent memory: the carrier Abraham Lincoln's 9˝-month cruise — a total of 303 days — in 2002-03.
In 1973, the carrier Midway was underway for 327 days, according to Fleet Forces.
A total of 10 carrier strike group or amphibious ready group deployments have exceeded seven months over the past five years, including that of the Bataan ARG. The Navy denies that longer deployments are becoming a new norm but says ships must "flex to meet emergent requirements." Officials say the overseas combatant commander "demand signal" for amphibious ships is high.
While deployed, the Bataan ARG supported operations from the east Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea. Highlights included support to combat operations in Libya, training in Djibouti, and bilateral training with Spanish and Romanian Marines.
"I could not be prouder of our servicemen and women," said Capt. Steven Yoder, the ARG commander. "Their performance, commitment to excellence, and flexibility during this deployment has truly been exceptional."