The aircraft carrier Nimitz left its home port of Naval Base Kitsap Monday for pre-deployment training as concerns loom over the Navy’s ability to prevent another devastating coronavirus outbreak onboard an underway ship.
Nimitz, which is slated to deploy to the Pacific this summer, will undergo a composite training unit exercise “designed to fully integrate units of a carrier strike group, while testing a strike group’s ability as a whole to carry out sustained combat operations from the sea,” the service announced Monday.
Crew members completed a 27-day quarantine period on board Nimitz and were tested for COVID-19 prior to embarking “to ensure the crew was healthy and ready to conduct operations at sea,” the Navy release said.
“Dealing with the challenges of the COVID pandemic has been difficult, so I’m very pleased that our mitigation efforts have put us in a position to get underway,” Capt. Max Clark, Nimitz’s commanding officer, said in the release.
“I give the crew all the credit. From the beginning, they have done all that I and Navy leadership have asked them to do — face coverings, social distancing, continuous ship sanitization, testing and periods of quarantine; all executed with precision and professionalism. Without their hard work and personal sacrifices, getting this warship out to sea would not have been possible.”
Nimitz and its strike group will undergo both simulated and live exercises that will test ships and personnel in areas that will prepare crew members for the unpredictability of a deployment while ensuring mission and combat operational success, Navy officials said.
“The men and women of Carrier Strike Group 11 joined the military and raised their right hand because they had a calling to serve for moments precisely like this, with our nation and our citizens facing such significant challenges,” said Rear Adm. Yvette M. Davids, commander of Carrier Strike Group 11.
“Our nation looks to us to be ready to return to sea, to execute our mission, and to support our national security objectives. We are humbled and honored to do so.”
Participating in the training exercise as part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is the guided-missile cruiser Princeton; the guided-missile destroyers John Paul Jones, Sterett, and Ralph Johnson; Destroyer Squadron 9; and Carrier Air Wing 17.
Navy officials said that every ship in the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group will be required to complete COVID-19 testing, as well as a quarantine period of at least 14 days, prior to getting underway.
Acquiring an adequate number of COVID-19 test kits was considered a necessity to prevent another outbreak like the one that hit the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
The service announced Monday that 955 Roosevelt sailors have active cases of the novel coronavirus, a number that makes up approximately 20 percent of the ship’s 4,800-person crew.
One sailor, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Robert Thacker, Jr., 41, died April 13 at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam due to COVID-19 complications.
Thacker was moved to the ICU on April 9 after being found unresponsive by other quarantined sailors. He is the only Theodore Roosevelt sailor to have succumbed to the virus.
Roosevelt has now been ported in Guam for exactly one month after Navy leadership ordered the ship’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, to sideline the carrier in an attempt to stem the swift spread of the virus throughout the ship’s tight quarters.
Navy officials also announced that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases onboard the guided-missile destroyer Kidd had climbed to 47.
Two sailors from the destroyer have been medically evacuated, and 15 were transferred from Kidd to the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Makin Island “for monitoring due to persistent symptoms,” Navy officials said.
Approximately 55 percent of the destroyer’s 300-plus-person crew is awaiting testing.
“We are taking every precaution to ensure we identify, isolate, and prevent any further spread onboard the ship,” said Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet.
“Our medical team continues coordinating with the ship and our focus is the safety and well-being of every sailor.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.