Sailors and Marines of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group and the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group can now count the number of days left in their deployment on two hands or fewer as the flattops head across the Atlantic for home.
The Wasp Amphibious Ready Group and its 4,000 sailors, along with the 2,200 Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit will return first just before Christmas. Eisenhower's 7,000 sailors, which will be back before New Year's.
In all, 10 ships and more than 13,000 troops will be coming home this holiday season, including the amphibious transport dock San Antonio and amphibious dock landing ship Whidbey Island, the destroyers Nitze, Roosevelt, Stout and Mason, and the cruisers San Jacinto and Monterrey.
Both groups will be back at or even before the seven-month mark, which is a major accomplishment for Navy leaders who have struggled to balance the heavy demands on the fleet with both budget cuts and complex maintenance and training cycles. Those pressures have caused deployment lengths to balloon to 10 months or greater, with the burden falling squarely on the shoulders of sailors and their families.
The Navy had been shooting for eight-month deployments under its new deployment plan, but in late 2014, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert declared eight months unsustainable and set the benchmark at seven months. Current CNO Adm. John Richardson agreed with Greenert and has continued to push for seven-month deployments.
Wasp has had an eventful deployment, supporting strikes on Islamic State group positions in Libya. The San Antonio also saw some excitement. In October the ship came under missile attack in the Red Sea from militants in Yemen — the Navy retaliated by striking radars sites in Yemen. Later San Antonio relieved Wasp in supporting the mission in Libya.
Ike also saw action, striking ISIS targets in both Iraq and Syria from both the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The George H.W. Bush strike group, meanwhile, is back in port from its final training exercise and is preparing to depart in early January. The group is composed of Carrier Air Wing 8, the destroyers Truxtun and Laboon, and the cruisers Hue City and Philippine Sea. This will be Hue City’s first deployment since a fire in the uptakes sidelined the cruiser for months.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.