WASHINGTON (AP) – The two American warships in the Middle East did not want to break a record.
But when the coronavirus made ship stopping abroad too risky, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS San Jacinto were ordered to keep moving and avoid all port visits.
Thursday, as they steamed through the North Arabian Sea, they recorded their 161st consecutive day at sea, breaking the previous 160-day naval record. And they are on track to crush it, as they won’t hit land again until this year.
The Milestone, Navy Capt. Kyle Higgins said, “It’s not one I think we really wanted, but one that the conditions of the world forced on us. And we embraced it with style.”
When the ships left home in January, COVID-19 was just beginning to appear. By the time they crossed the Atlantic and entered the Mediterranean, the virus escalated.
In March, Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, the Navy’s 5th Fleet Commander, ordered all port calls to be halted to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading through the fleet. Other ships fought outbreaks, including the USS Theodore Roosevelt, who was sidelined in Guam.
Higgins, the commander of Eisenhower and Capt. Edward Crossman, the commander of San Jacinto, said that their sailors would not set foot on land for some time. Both were interviewed a few days before the ships broke the record.
For more than five months, the Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier, and the San Jacinto, the accompanying guided missile cruiser, have been at sea with no visitors on board and with strict controls over how aircraft deliver their supplies.
The isolation was challenging. Port calls not only give sailors time for rest and relaxation, they also bring experts on board to make difficult repairs.
When the door of San Jacinto’s helicopter bay broke, the crew had to get creative. It was the middle of the night and they realized they needed to replace a large gear.
“My boys did the research and they said,” Hey, these 90-pound dumbbells are made from the same material we need for this equipment, “Crossman said in an interview from the ship. So they took the barbell to the machine shop and created the part.
“If it were magicians,” said Crossman, “a hundred rabbits would run through the house because they kept pulling them out of their hats.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Grimes, an engineer mate, is one of the sailors responsible for keeping the machines running. When the door broke, it was his team who figured out how to fix it.
“I was skeptical, but as it went, I didn’t really count it out,” he said. “Definitely the helicopter hangar door is the craziest thing we’ve done.”
On the Eisenhower, crew members had to safely replace a large, critical cockpit fan motor. It took four teams from the electricity, engineer, supply and operator departments, but after consulting experts on shore, they broke off the fan, placed it on an improvised platform and installed the new part.
“Normally, this job would have cut the ship to get it there,” Higgins said. “I am happy to report that the fan and motor are working fine and that makes us 100% operational again.”
Crew entertainment has also become creative. Disappointed sailors watched as they passed countries along the Mediterranean Sea and crossed the Red Sea without stopping.
“This is both my first ship and my first bet,” said Petty Officer 2nd class Dionesha Simmons. “It’s a bit of a struggle just because I was looking forward to some of the port calls.”
Instead, she said, she enjoys making brunch for the Eisenhower crew on “Waffle Saturdays.” She and others are taking over to give the chefs a break.
Higgins and Crossman said they try to give sailors special free time – sometimes 24 hours to do what they want, sometimes a few days in a row.
They plan more swimming days and “steel beach picnics” when sailors can wear civilian clothes and barbecues on the cockpit. The Eisenhower crew had cigar bangers with jazz music. A popular event, said Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Bush, was a slam dunk basketball game that he said relieved stress and showed some talent.
On the San Jacinto, sailors replaced a mustache competition for the March Madness tournament. The 64-strong group took part to see who could grow the ugliest mustache.
“There is certainly some disappointment about not going to port, especially given our original plans. But we’ve come this far, ”said Grimes. “Actually, many of us are very proud to be part of this. … The longest I’ve been on the road is a little over 40 days, and that record has been destroyed. ”
The 160-day record was set by the USS Theodore Roosevelt in February 2002, early in the war in Afghanistan. The previous record of 152 days was set by the Eisenhower in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis. Naval historians say it is difficult to look long into the past, because records are irregular.
Both captains planned celebrations.
Crossman said that sailors are competing to design the certificate they will receive, adding, “We’re quite proud to be taking the record, but we’re going to blow it away.”
Higgins ordered ‘the best dinner’ the crew could make, with surf and peat, a big cake and ice cream. He said he will wait before gathering the crew for a festive photo.
“It will be 161 days if we break the record, but we think we might be a little longer here and that the potential to well exceed that figure is pretty good,” he said. a more round, even number. ‘
Now one crucial question remains: which ship will call Norfolk last and set the record?
“I’ve had a few requests to see if we could stay out longer to make sure we beat the Ike,” Crossman said with a laugh.
Higgins says they joked about it. His reaction? “Time will tell.”
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