There's good news for the Bremerton, Washington-based crew of the carrier Nimitz, just in time for Christmas: That homeport shift they've been expecting next year is off.
Nimitz, which is scheduled for a deployment after it gets out of the yard this summer, is going to stay in Bremerton through its 2018 maintenance availability, the Navy announced Tuesday.
"I've been working this for a while to try to keep the crew here," commanding officer Capt. John Ring told Navy Times in a Monday phone interview.
Nimitz has been on a tour of West Coast home ports over the past several years. In 2010 the "5-star" carrier moved from San Diego to Bremerton for maintenance, then settled in Everett the following year. And after a 2013 deployment, the crew headed back to Bremerton's yards for an overhaul.
Next on the agenda would have been a shift back to Everett to get ready for deployment, then a move back to Bremerton for post-deployment maintenance.
"If we had executed this PCS, this ship would have done five home-port changes in eight years," said Ring, who was executive officer during the move from San Diego and had fleeted up in time for the move down to Bremerton earlier this year.
"There are people on the crew that will have a five or six-year tour on the ship, and they could potentially have done four of them," he said.
Now, with some stability built in for the next few years, he said his crew won't have to worry about a looming move while trying to get ready to deploy, and then moving when they're back stateside in 2017.
"I basically started the process by advocating for my crew by saying, 'Hey, you know what? This isn't good for my crew, having to move two more times,' " Ring said, pointing out that the sailors would have only been home a few days between getting out of the yards and coming back from deployment.
While Everett and Bremerton are just across the Puget Sound from each other, there's also a two-hour drive between them. Many sailors probably wouldn't have moved, Ring said, but would have made the commute.
"I personally did that when I first reported to the ship," he recalled. "After two and half weeks my wife said, 'You are no fun when you get home from that drive. Stay on the ship.' "
But the trade-off for the brutal commute would have been uprooting families to move just a couple hours away, temporarily.
"All three thousand of my sailors were making that kind of decision," he said,. "It's hard to focus on readiness when people are focused on making that next ferry, or 'When does my van pool leave?' "
Nimitz will still return to Everett eventually, according to a Navy release, after its availability wraps up in is over 2019.
There is little difference in deploying from one or the other, Ring said, except that you have to watch the tides a bit more because of the shallower water. Everett, on the other hand, is a deepwater port that doesn't require dredging.
Though Nimitz has been in maintenance all year, members of the crew have been able to cross-deck to other ships to learn new skills and sharpen them. On Dec. 19, 54 of them returned home from a brief stint on the carrier George Washington, which made the journey from its former Yokosuka, Japan-port to Norfolk for an overhaul.
"I think by the time we get out of the yard, we will have over 300 sailors that have had the opportunity to go to a different ship to get qualified and proficient," Ring said. "Those are the folks that are going to lead us out of the yard phase, going to show us folks that are a little rusty how to do things."