NORFOLK — Two days later than expected, the guided-missile destroyer Gonzalez left Naval Station Norfolk on Friday for what the Navy is calling an independent ballistic missile defense deployment.
Naval Surface Forces Atlantic spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson said that the Gonzalez’s crew got two extra days at home while workers fixed “a piece of equipment associated with anti-submarine warfare.”
Officials won’t say where the warship will go next or estimate how long it will stay at sea but insist the Gonzalez’s primary duty initially will be missile defense.
“We are an independent deployer. Our primary mission is ballistic missile defense, but we have mission sets in all other areas and we are part of Strike Group 12 as well,” Cmdr. Christopher J. Schwarz, the Gonzalez’s commanding officer, told reporters on Wednesday when the destroyer was supposed to deploy.
It’s the destroyer’s first lengthy deployment since returning here with the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group in 2016 after an extended tour across waters overseen by the 5th and 6th Fleets.
Since then, the Gonzalez has undergone two long sessions in the shipyard before training with the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, including their Composite Training Unit Exercise that straddled January and February.
Schwarz said that this will be the first deployment for about 60 percent of his crew.
“I’m excited for our team, our crew, as we’ve worked really hard to prepare for this and we’re ready to go, to answer our nation’s call," he said.
Before shoving off, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Jared Ahenkora-Kwakyi conceded he was “anxious” about going on his first deployment but said it felt “satisfying” to finally end the training and start the tour.
“I’m really looking forward to doing my job in a non-simulated environment,” he said. “This is the real deal and we’re prepared. And once we’re out there, you never know what might happen.”
Although the Gonzalez trained with the Abraham Lincoln CSG and participated in the same COMPTUEX, the destroyer’s deployment are officially separate cruises. But Schwarz said that his crew could “absolutely” fold back into escort duties with the group, if needed.
The CSG hasn’t departed yet but when the Lincoln leaves it will be for good. The flattop is making a homeport shift to San Diego, so it will circumnavigate much of the globe on its tour.
The Lincoln’s escorts, including the guided-missile cruiser Leyte Gulf and destroyers Bainbridge, Mason and Nitze are slated to return eventually to Norfolk.
The Spanish guided-missile frigate Méndez Núñez is expected to join up with the CSG in April. according to a Madrid press release.
The Spanish frigate also trained with the Lincoln before sailing back to its homeport at Ferrol Naval Base.
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.