When they left Naval Station Mayport, Florida, on Sept. 27, Cmdr. Jeremy Robertson and the sailors he commanded aboard the destroyer Carney had no idea what was in store for them.

But to hear Robertson tell it, they were ready to face the unknown, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen would soon put them to the test.

Carney and its crew would spend the coming months shooting down an at-times relentless salvo of Iran-backed Houthi missiles and drones from Yemen, fired at all types of vessels transiting the claustrophobic confines of the Red Sea.

When the Houthis fired anti-ship ballistic missiles, Robertson’s sailors had just a handful of breaths in which to decide if and how they would counter the attacks.

“From start to finish, it’s anywhere from nine to 20 seconds,” Robertson told reporters on Monday, a day after the Carney returned home to Mayport. “So very fast, very dynamic. And our systems are doing exactly what we’ve designed them to do.”

Countering these threats so swiftly required full confidence in the ship’s tactical action officers, the watch team, and all the systems aboard the vessel, Robertson added.

“We have learned some significant capabilities when it comes to speed,” Robertson said. “So an [anti-ship ballistic missile] is just way faster than anything else. And we have certain capabilities to be able to detect stuff like that…These are certainly very dangerous areas. And every, every interaction is completely different from one another.”

The destroyer originally joined the Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group this fall in the European theater for a scheduled deployment, but headed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in the Middle East on Oct. 18 amid concerns about a larger conflict emerging in the region at the onset of the Israel-Hamas war.

The very next day, the vessel became the first confirmed U.S. warship to intercept a series of Houthi missiles and drones in the Red Sea on Oct. 19, an hours-long melee that would set Carney’s course for months to come.

“None of us could have prepared for this,” Robertson said. “None of us could have known what was going to happen…We never had anyone that shied away from the moment.”

The Carney was joined by several other Navy destroyer that continue to strike down these Houthi threats on military and commercial vessels in the region since then.

On top of intercepting Houthi missiles and drones, Carney also helped stop Iran’s missile and drone attack against Israel on April 14.

“The team was there, they were in the moment and it was amazing to see how quickly they transitioned into a battle mindset,” Robertson said. “Their responsibility and actions and follow up came very instinctual. We were doing all of our pre-planned responses, we were doing everything we could to make sure that we didn’t make a mistake.”

No two days looked alike, Robertson said, adding that he wouldn’t alter the ship’s training at all to prepare for operations in the Middle East — except for possibly adding an additional exercise here or there for contingencies like the rescue and assistance missions that Carney took on to help commercial vessels stricken by Houthi attacks.

“It really validates the training and the preparedness that we have,” Robertson said.

Back on land Monday, Robertson expressed pride in his crew’s “relentless pursuit of excellence,” and said Carney’s sailors will never forget their ship’s historic deployment.

“The crew was there for each other and they got through it together, built resiliency together,” Robertson said. “Their cohesion and connectedness is one of the major factors into why they made such an effective warfighting team.”

All told, the Carney conducted 51 engagements in the span of six months, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti. Franchetti, who greeted the ship during a quick stop in Norfolk, Va., this month, recognized 14 sailors for their accomplishments at sea.

Additionally, the entire crew has also received recognition for its actions in the Red Sea in January when the Navy awarded the crew Combat Action Ribbons for an engagement in December where the Carney shot down 14 Houthi air drones.

Upon arrival in Mayport on Sunday, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro presented the Navy Unit Commendation to the ship. The unit award, the second highest after the Presidential Unit Citation, is distributed to Navy and Marine Corps units that demonstrated “outstanding heroism” in action against enemy forces.

“Carney was deployed forward, deterring our adversaries, protecting our national interests, defending the rules-based international order, and promoting peace,” Del Toro said, according to a Navy news release. “I, and all Americans, am immensely proud of these Carney Sailors. They represent the best of the Department of the Navy and indeed our nation.”

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