COVID-19 was still a mystery Chinese pneumonia when the crew of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower last set foot on land in Norfolk, Virginia.
Five months later, afloat on the balmy Arabian Sea, they have yet to leave the aircraft carrier, which has now broken the Navy’s record for the longest period of time at sea, along with its escort guided-missile destroyer.
The ships have now been at sea for 161 days straight, not pulling in to shore in order to keep the crew safe from the pandemic.
“Although Naval History and Heritage Command does not specifically track continuous days underway for naval vessels, it has two modern documented days-at-sea records, both of which are now broken,” said a Navy statement.
The previous record, at 160 days, was held by the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), during a post-9/11 response back in 2002.
The earlier record of 152 days, picked up during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, was also held by the Eisenhower.
The Eisenhower and its escort, the San Jacinto, departed their homeport of Norfolk on Jan. 17 for the strike group’s Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) and follow-on deployment to the U.S. 6th and 5th Fleet areas of operation.
“In March, I suspended liberty port visits to reduce the chance of spreading and contracting the virus across the Fleet,” said Vice Adm. Jim Malloy, commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, and Combined Maritime. “Throughout this pandemic, maintaining the Fleet’s warfighting readiness while ensuring the safety and well-being of our Sailors has been my top priority.”
According to the Navy, the ships also had a “rest & reset” period at sea, “coming off-station for a short period of time to allow the crew to relax and reenergize with morale events such as swim calls and steel beach picnics.”
But the ships aren’t heading home just yet.
“We’ve made it this far and I’m incredibly proud of the crew for all their hard work,” said Capt. Edward Crossman, commanding officer of San Jacinto, which has accompanied the carrier throughout. “The fact of the matter is our work isn’t done. We aren’t headed home yet, and we’re on path to blow the previous record out of the water.”
The U.S. Navy has been adapting to the challenges brought by the pandemic, taking lessons from the outbreak on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which was sidelined for two months in Guam.
The Pentagon is prioritizing making sure crews are virus-free when they head out on deployment, which means concentrating testing and quarantine in the time window just before deployment.