The aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group left Norfolk Thursday for the carrier’s second deployment in a year.

The carrier headed over the horizon after a last-minute push to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to strike group sailors last week. About 80 percent of sailors opted to get the voluntary vaccine, with a second shot to follow at an overseas location, officials said.

The deployment also comes after the aging Ike experienced a myriad of mechanical problems at sea during its recent pre-deployment exercises, issues that led to concerns among sailors, but which Navy leaders have characterized as the kinds of things that inevitably occur on such a complex ship.

As the Navy pushes the 43-year-old carrier out for this double-pump deployment, responding to ship demands from the Pentagon and U.S. combatant commands, the brass is working to lessen the sting of this latest deployment, which comes roughly six months after the crew got back from a record-breaking 2020 deployment.

Pier-side port calls are planned, officials said, as are other activities that will seek to lessen the strain of not being able to have the sort of pre-pandemic port calls which for sailors are often the highlights of such cruises.

Last year’s deployment began in January 2020, before COVID-19 had upended life around the world, and sailors returned to a very different America in August.

At one point, the Ike was the record holder for continuous days at sea, a 205-day stretch that was soon eclipsed by the warship Stout.

Sailors have expressed concerns about the mental health of the crew, as well as COVID mitigation measures and the material readiness of the ship. But the ship’s captain and strike group commander told Navy Times last month that the Ike is good to go.

After reports emerged of water shortages and a resulting “Afloat Mount Trashmore” onboard last month, Carrier Strike Group 2 commander Rear Adm. Scott Robertson said in an interview that things break down on complex carriers and that he hadn’t “detected any kind of increase here in us being not able to maintain our systems.”

“These things happen,” he said.

Joining the Ike on this cruise are Carrier Air Wing 3, the guided-missile cruisers Monterey and Vella Gulf, as well as the guided-missile destroyers Mitscher, Laboon, Mahan and Thomas Hudner.

“We are ready to deploy,” Robertson said in a Navy news release.

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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