NORFOLK — After 26 consecutive days of virtual war in the Atlantic, the seven ships of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group returned to Naval Station Norfolk on Saturday.
So they’ve taken taken all the tests in their Composite Unit Training Exercise to get certified for a deployment overseas — only their grades aren’t in. Yet.
That’s because Navy officials are finishing the necessary paperwork and debriefings before getting a final stamp of approval from Adm. Christopher Grady, the four-star who helms U.S. Fleet Forces Command here.
And now with the resurrection of 2nd Fleet, the strike group’s chain of command also must go through Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis, and he gets a vote on whether the crews passed or failed.
Lewis is awaiting a brief from Carrier Strike Group 4 commander Rear Adm. Kenny Whitsell.
His Norfolk-based command creates, executes and then assesses how well the crews performed in a scenario that was thrown at the Lincoln and the aircraft carrier’s squadrons and warship escorts, according to Cmdr. Charles Drey, spokesman for the training strike group.
“Those briefs have not yet occurred," Drey told Navy Times.
"The units were tested across every core warfare area within their mission set through a variety of simulated and live events, including air warfare, strait transits, and responses to surface and subsurface contacts and electronic attacks, according to a Lincoln Strike Group press release.
The performance of the strike group during its COMPTUEX doesn’t appear to have been affected by Feb. 5 UNREP exercise that went sideways off the Georgia coast involving the guided-missile cruiser Leyte Gulf and the ammunition and dry cargo supply ship Robert E. Peary.
No one was injured when both sterns touched while practicing an underway replenishment but the cruiser was sidelined for nearly a week at Florida’s Naval Station Mayport, undergoing minor repairs while a probe into what caused the collision kicked off.
Acing the COMPTUEX is important because the Lincoln’s upcoming deployment will be the flattop’s first in nearly seven years, with much of the time spent in a roughly four-year midlife refueling and overhaul session at the Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipyard.
And the warship isn’t returning to Norfolk. It’s going to travel east and keep going until it arrives later this year in San Diego, its new homeport.
“I’m extremely proud of the hard work and dedication I saw from every level of the team throughout this dynamic and challenging training event,” said Rear Adm. John Wade, Carrier Strike Group Twelve’s commander.
“I was impressed by the level of complexity of the exercise, which afforded our strike group the opportunity to get in the reps and sets necessary to build competence and confidence across all domains and warfare areas.”
The departure date has been announced, but 2nd Fleet will direct the strike group during its cruise across the Atlantic Ocean.
Although 2nd Fleet hasn’t reached its full operating capability, Lewis and his staff looked at their participation in the Lincoln’s COMPTUEX as a milestone on that journey.
Along with the Lincoln and the Leyte Gulf, the strike group will include Carrier Air Wing 7 and the guided-missile destroyers Bainbridge, Gonzalez, Mason and Nitze.
They’ll be accompanied by the Spanish frigate Méndez Núñez, which arrived in January and will now return to its homeport at Ferrol Naval Base.
The warship will rejoin the group when they head east.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.