NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — After six months at sea, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to Naval Station Norfolk on Sunday.
More than 4,000 sailors returned to Hampton Roads exactly six months after they left alongside Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (IKE CSG).
Military officials say that nine aircraft squadrons of Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) were also aboard the ship. They conducted a total of 6,100 sorties and 12,401 flight hours for the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group’s deployment.
IKE CSG worked to support others deployed in the U.S. 6th and 5th Fleets in the Middle East and Europe. They also assisted with troop drawdown in Afghanistan.
“These are amazing Americans that truly did a phenomenal job on deployment,” said Rear Admiral Scott Robertson. “I could not be more proud of them.”
The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group relieved IKE CSG of their duties in late June.
Although the carrier left Norfolk in February, the crew had not seen their families since December 2020.
Robertson, who described the day of the homecoming like Christmas morning as a child, says the sailors left the world feeling the impacts of COVID. Some sailors were struggling with personal loss while others may have had family members unemployed.
“We had these reasons, these hurdles to success initially and the fact we operated at a successful level in two AORs and kept our sailors safe, our airplanes safe and operational, it’s a real source of pride,” Robertson said.
Before deploying, the IKE worked to vaccinate its crew over a span of three days pierside. Nurse Jennifer Lo says they were the first ship to do their own vaccinations and built the program from the ground up.
Weeks later, they vaccinated the crew at sea and also worked to ease sailors’ concerns by explaining the vaccines to them.
“I’m happy to report we had more than 94 percent of the strike group get the vaccine. We had sailors and pilots who really wanted to get the job done,” said Lo.
Their next job included working and training alongside different foreign countries such as Morrocco, France, Italy, and Greece, according to Captain Mitch McCallister.
But McCallister says the icing on the cake was getting the call to help with the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.
“It’s special for me too,” he said. “My first combat flight was in 2001 in Afghanistan. To be here at the end meant that much to me personally.”
The withdrawal pushed back the crew’s deployment but McCallister says everyone onboard felt a sense of purpose helping in the mission.
That sense is exactly why Brittany Stewart joined the Navy a little over a year ago.
“I felt like I’m a part of something greater than myself and that’s exactly why I joined the Navy because we accomplished something,” she said.
Stewart says her first deployment was rough but she worked hard and was Blue Jacket of the Quarter for the second quarter.
It’s watching the growth of the young sailors like Stewart that’s helped Command Master Chief Antonio Perryman through his career in the Navy. He’s deployed 10 times.
“This is my final deployment. It’s been epic,” he said. “For 32 years, did I see myself being here today? I would say no but the people I’ve been surrounded by with these young men and women who strive to be better every day, I’m proud.”
This final deployment is one he’ll remember and one the crew will too. They earned the Navy Unit Commendation for their service from Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Harker.
“Continue to set goals, continue to dream big, you’re the one who sets your destiny so let no one take that from you,” said Perryman to the younger sailors.