NORFOLK, Va. — The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group returned home from deployment last week, the second for the carrier in less than a year.
Before the ship pulled in to Naval Station Norfolk, News 3 photojournalist Kevin Walker spent time embarked on the Ike, seeing what life was like during the deployment.
All this week we'll take an inside look at the deployment, where Sailors were not only tasked with a short turnaround at home before deploying for the second time in less than a year, but also deploying in the COVID-19 pandemic environment.
"I am most proud that we had all these reasons why we may not have been successful. There were a lot of barriers to it with the second deployment, COVID, the uncertainty pieces of doing that," Rear Admiral Scott Robertson, Commander, Carrier Strike Group TWO, told News 3. "The fact that this team just absolutely rallied and went out and truly showed their grit, their toughness, and their commitment to the Navy and our nation is what I'm most proud of. And we went out and we really shined. We really demonstrated and met all of our deployment objectives."
The back-to-back deployment also prompted concerns about mental health for Sailors who dealt with that additional challenge of a COVID-era deployment that restricted them to the ship for the majority of the time.
A “Talk Boss," a civilian licensed clinician, deployed with the Ike to give Sailors a safe place to relax, talk, and reduce the stigma of mental health.
142 Sailors were also trained as resiliency mentors, giving them tools to identify problems in fellow Sailors early.
The crew also dealt with several engineering challenges during the deployment, including a hydraulic leak on the starboard rudder and a problem with one of the aircraft elevators.
“I think the uniqueness as far as the innovation happened on this deployment as a function of the pandemic and our inability to kind of have contractors come out here,” Chief Engineer Commander Jim Hornef told News 3. “We were able to kind of find innovative ways to affect some of the repairs: we were able to use different kind of materials, or we were able to collaborate on shore with some of the people, the technicians, the engineers to help us out.”
Thanks to innovation and quick thinking by the crew, a repair on the rudder was completed in 36 hours, keeping the ship underway without impact to flight operations.
The aircraft elevator was also fixed, a repair that Hornef says is not typically done by Sailors, and certainly not at sea.