About 1 in 3 sailors aboard the destroyer James E. Williams, which left Friday on an eight-month deployment, joined the crew within the last two months. (Lance M. Bacon/Staff)
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NORFOLK, VA. — The destroyer James E. Williams began an eight-month deployment Friday, leaving here for the Horn of Africa to conduct training and exercises with partner nations.
Destroyers typically don’t sail on eight-month independent deployments to U.S. Africa Command for training, a job typically handled by frigates.
But frigates are rapidly leaving the service, and the littoral combat ships are all based on the West Coast. And eight months has become the new deployment standard.
The destroyer’s skipper said his crew was looking forward to the cruise and the opportunity to operate with African navies.
“It’s been a very long road for my crew,” said Cmdr. Curtis Calloway, the ship’s commanding officer. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point, and we’re very excited and ready to go.”
Calloway expects a slower pace of operations than the crew experienced when deployed with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group for 7½ months in 2012. The crew is prepared for multimission tasking that can take down submerged, surface and air threats — and, of course, pirates.
Sailors and families who gathered for a farewell breakfast on the mess decks weren’t thrilled with the prospect of an eight-month deployment. But most took the duration in stride and accepted it as the new normal.
“The deployment is kind of long,” said Lt. Ray Adkins, the ship’s chaplain. “You do what you can to make the best of it. Family support and family preparation is huge, and we have to remember that each sailor is different and each relationship is unique.”
The ship has strengthened the spouses’ networks and upgraded the website to keep families in the loop, Calloway said.
This will be the first deployment for more than 100 crew members. Seaman Jessica Lacour is among them. She tried not to think about the time away from loved ones as the deployment drew near, and she admitted it was tough to say goodbye. She is counting on email and frequent-flier miles to get her through.
“It’s not the end of the world,” she said. “We’ll be back soon enough.”
Roughly one-third of the crew reported aboard within the past two months. Command Master Chief (SW) Travis Biswell said the new-joins have meshed well and are up to speed.
Among them is Lt. j.g. Emanuela Ferrentino, an officer of the Italian navy serving as the ship’s assistant navigation officer. While being selected to cross-deck is a career boost in itself, Ferrentino said she is excited to grow professionally as she works alongside her American counterparts.
“And I think it will help me improve my English, too,” she said in an Italian accent. “No, I kid. But truly I think this will be one of the best experiences of my life.”