Aircraft carriers spending longer stretches at sea
Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.
BREMERTON, Wash. — USS John C. Stennis' early deployment will extend the time aircraft carriers are out to sea.
The Bremerton-based ship, which returned from the Middle East on March 2, will go back in late August. It had been scheduled to deploy at the end of the year to the western Pacific.
"(Stennis') early deployment will cause an average increase in our carrier deployments," Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, said during an all-hands call Monday at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton. "We had expected, on the average, carrier deployments would be about seven months for this year. And because of the demand in the Arabian Gulf, the average deployment for carriers will be about eight months and a week for the rest of this year and early into (2013)."
Greenert, who visited Pacific Northwest bases and Seafair earlier in the week, spoke Monday to sailors assigned to aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan, and other Kitsap commands. He said he doesn't expect longer deployments to become permanent.
"As we look forward into the future, we expect about 7 1/2, maybe eight months for some carriers, but eight- or nine-month deployments should not be the norm," he said.
In 2010, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered a second carrier to the Persian Gulf area to support the Afghanistan troop surge and troop drawdown in Iraq. Since then, there have been 1.7 carriers in the region — two for nine months and one for the other three months. One is generally in the Persian Gulf while the other operates in the Arabian Sea, providing air support for the war in Afghanistan.
The directive was going to expire in September, when the USS Enterprise would be completing its final deployment and leaving the USS Eisenhower as the sole aircraft carrier in the Middle East. The U.S. Central Command, which covers the Arabian Gulf and Arabian Sea, asked to keep a second carrier in the region, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agreed. The Stennis' deployment orders were changed and it will leave four months early for the Middle East, the Navy announced on July 16.
The USS Eisenhower deployment is expected to extend nine months, to late March, and the Stennis' eight months until late April. Stennis sailors will have been deployed 15 out of 21 months, not counting training exercises.
Greenert said Monday if the Navy continues a two-carrier requirement in the Persian Gulf, it will need to take a close look at maintenance schedules, training schedules and the impact on sailors and families.
He emphasized during an all-hands call Tuesday at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island he'd make it a priority for sailors to get enough home time and rest between deployments.
"My guideline is that 50 percent of the time (sailors) are at home," he said. "Rest and training are also priorities."
The Navy didn't respond to how the changes might affect the Stennis' schedule after the deployment.