The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group’s deployment may have drawn to a close, but the flattop carrier and its escorts are being ordered to remain at sea in an effort to keep sailors protected from exposure to COVID-19.
The group, which was set to return to Norfolk, Virginia, after completing a deployment to U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation, will instead remain on call in the Western Atlantic in case the need for a rapid response forward deployment arises, Navy officials confirmed.
“The ship is entering a period in which it needs to be ready to respond and deploy at any time,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander U.S. 2nd Fleet, said in the Navy release.
“Normally we can do that pierside, but in the face of COVID-19, we need to protect our most valuable asset, our people, by keeping the ship out to sea.”
Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, commander of Carrier Strike Group 8, acknowledged that an extension might not come as welcome news to crew members, some of whom departed Norfolk in September for a deployment largely devoted to keeping tabs on Iran. The deployment was the carrier Truman’s third overseas cruise in the last four years.
“After completing a successful deployment we would love nothing more than to be reunited with our friends and families,” Loiselle said in the release.
“We recognize that these are unique circumstances and the responsible thing to do is to ensure we are able to answer our nation’s call while ensuring the health and safety of our Sailors. We thank you for your continued love and support as we remain focused on this important mission.”
In addition to the strike group’s aircraft carrier namesake, the guided-missile destroyers Forrest Sherman, Farragut, and Lassen, as well as the guided-missile cruiser Normandy, are currently at sea.
Navy officials expect to update crew and family members of the evolving situation in “approximately three weeks,” the release said.
The Navy’s decision comes in the wake of Monday’s announcement that a sailor from the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt had died from complications related to COVID-19.
The sailor, who was admitted to an intensive care unit last week in Guam, is the first from the 4,800-person ship to die following a coronavirus outbreak onboard. As of Monday, 485 sailors assigned to the sidelined carrier have contracted COVID-19.
“We mourn the loss of the Sailor from USS Theodore Roosevelt who died today, and we stand alongside their family, loved ones, and shipmates as they grieve,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said.
“This is a great loss for the ship and for our Navy. My deepest sympathy goes out the family, and we pledge our full support to the ship and crew as they continue their fight against the coronavirus. While our ships, submarines and aircraft are made of steel, Sailors are the real strength of our Navy.”
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.