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US Aircraft Carrier Theodore Roosevelt Ends Troubled Six Month Deployment In The Pacific

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US Aircraft Carrier Theodore Roosevelt Ends Troubled Six Month Deployment In The Pacific

Three U.S. aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt (top left) USS Ronald Reagan (top center) and USS Nimitz (top right) participate in exercises with South Korean forces in 2017.

The US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt arrived in San Diego on Thursday ending a difficult six month deployment plagued by sicknesses and accidents, during which two crew members died from illness. The ship’s commanding officer was also replaced in controversial circumstances for allegedly mishandling an outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the ship in March.

The crew had a challenging six-month deployment, during which the ship was hit hard by COVID-19 and also suffered from a leadership upheaval since it left for the Asia-Pacific region in January. Two other ships with the carrier strike group — the destroyer Russell and guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill — returned to California on Wednesday, officials from the US Third Fleet announced.

The Roosevelt’s crew lost two sailors during the deployment. Aviation Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Justin Calderone, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 146, died last week following a medical emergency. In April, Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. died of complications due to COVID-19.

The Roosevelt, which has more than 5,000 people onboard, was the third aircraft carrier that had reported COVID-19 cases in March. The USS Ronald Reagan, forward deployed in Yokosuka, Japan, said two sailors on board had tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27, according to a report from Fox News.

The Kitsap Sun reported on March 23 that a member of the USS Carl Vinson’s crew was also diagnosed with COVID-19. Then, in April, Politico reported that a sailor on board the carrier Nimitz (CVN 68) had tested positive for COVID-19, citing three defence officials. After this, the Pentagon then stopped identifying the locations of active duty service members infected with the coronavirus. At the time the USS Nimitz, the oldest aircraft carrier of the fleet, was docked in Bremerton, Washington State, and its deployment to the Pacific was delayed by a two-week quarantine of its crew. LINK

In late March, the ship’s former commanding officer, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of command after he sent an email warning about the carrier’s growing health crisis as COVID-19 cases began to spread rapidly. The email was also sent to some officials outside his formal chain of command, and was subsequently leaked to the press.  Crozier was one of 1,273 crew members to contract the virus in the Navy’s largest known outbreak to date.

After Crozier’s was relieved of his command then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly made an unplanned visit to the ship, flying nearly 8,000 miles from Washington, D.C., to Guam, where the carrier was docked for about two months as the crew was evacuated and isolated. Modly, who was responsible for firing Crozier, slammed the captain’s decision to send an emailed warning about the coronavirus cases on the Roosevelt, calling him “too naïve or too stupid” to serve as their commanding officer.

The speech was recorded and obtained by media outlets, and Modly faced a strong backlash over his speech, as well as over his decision to fly halfway around the world to deliver it. He stepped down April 7, leaving the Navy secretary position vacant for the second time in six months.

The Roosevelt spent almost one-third of its deployment docked in Guam. Most of the crew was moved into onshore facilities as the ship was disinfected, but the coronavirus still spread rapidly among its personnel, eventually infecting about a quarter of the sailors on the ship.

The crew headed back out to sea in May, where it participated in naval exercises in the Philippines Sea. In June, an F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed into the Philippine Sea during a routine training flight. Both the pilot and weapon systems officer safely ejected and were recovered by an MH-60S helicopter. LINK

As the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt look forward to some time off on their home turf, tensions between Beijing and Washington continue to simmer in the South China Sea, where the US aircraft carriers Nimitz and Ronald Reagan conducted rare dual-carrier operations last weekend.

The Nimitz steamed into the waters of Japan-based US 7th Fleet last month, while the Reagan is home ported in Japan.

Two carriers are not believed to have operated together in the South China Sea since 2009, when the George Washington and Carl Vinson headed into the contentious waters.

They were joined by the Theodore Roosevelt last month in the nearby Philippine Sea, before the latter returned to the US.

The two carriers launched fighter jets “around the clock,” while practicing other skills in tandem, according to a Navy release.

They were joined in the skies by an Air Force B-52 Stratofortress, a long-range, nuclear-capable bomber from the 2nd Bomb Wing, which took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to take part in the exercises.

Bomber Task Force demonstrates U.S. capability to rapidly deploy to a forward operating base and execute long-range strike missions,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Duff, 96th Bomb Squadron commander, in an Air Force news release. “This sortie demonstrates our ability to reach out from home station, fly anywhere in the world and execute those missions, rapidly regenerate from a forward operating base and continue operations.”

Warships of the carrier strike force also practiced defending against an attack during the exercises, with carrier jets at times playing the enemy. LINK

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