The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan departed its forward-deployed homeport of Yokosuka, Japan, this week for sea trials as it ramps up preparations for an upcoming deployment amid ongoing coronavirus concerns.
The trial period, which is expected to last about a week, marks the first time Reagan has pulled out of Yokosuka since November, when it returned from a six-month deployment in the western Pacific.
Reagan sailors underwent phases of required quarantine prior to embarking, officials said. The commander of Carrier Strike Group Five, Rear Adm. George M. Wikoff, initiated the sequestration by ordering 1,300 sailors assigned to the carrier to remain in isolation in barracks scattered across multiple bases, the New York Times first reported.
Extensive measures were put in place after 16 of the carrier’s sailors reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. Some sailors assigned to the carrier strike group remain in isolation, Navy officials said.
As an additional precaution, sailors aboard Reagan — which is expected to deploy sometime this summer — have been informed that liberty calls during the upcoming deployment have been canceled entirely, meaning for the duration of the float, most of the crew will not be allowed to disembark when the ship pulls into port.
Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier Nimitz underwent similar procedures prior to the ship’s departure for sea trials from Naval Base Kitsap on April 27.
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,” Navy officials said. Acquiring an adequate number of COVID-19 test kits delayed the carrier’s departure, but was considered a necessity to prevent another outbreak like the one that hit the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
“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 prior to departing.
Navy officials throughout the fleet have continued to emphasize an ability to carry out deployments despite pandemic-related fears gripping the nation.
“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.”
Upon departing for trials, Reagan became the Navy’s only underway carrier in the west Pacific.
Sailors from the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt have begun initial phases of re-boarding the ship for the first time since March 27, when a coronavirus outbreak sidelined the carrier in Guam, but there remains no definitive timetable for when the Big Stick will get back to sea.
About 4,000 Roosevelt sailors, or approximately 90 percent of the ship’s crew, were quarantined in hotels in the weeks following its arrival in Guam.
A crew of approximately 700 sailors remained on TR to conduct ongoing deep cleaning procedures while also manning the ship’s critical systems, a U.S. 7th Fleet release said.
Similar to Reagan, getting sailors back on board Roosevelt is expected to be carried out in phases. Each sailor will be tested twice for COVID-19 prior to boarding the ship.
Embarking the crew will also require extensive efforts between the 700 who remained on ship and the sailors coming on board, Navy officials said.
“The stay-behind crew successfully built a ‘bubble’ around the ship, that can now be turned over to the clean crew,” Cmdr. Zach Harry, chief engineer aboard Theodore Roosevelt, said in the release.
“The crew will now create a boundary to keep the coronavirus out. This clean bubble must now be defended. Without a clean ship and healthy sailors, we cannot execute the mission. Our sailors take pride in what they do and it shows with the effort and long hours spent cleaning our ship for our clean crew. The crew did an extraordinary job.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.