USS Truman crew took advantage of delays to hone training
Fighter jets circle the aircraft carrier USS Truman before landing on Aug. 15, 2013, just south of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. The Truman is bound for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf as part of a nine-month deployment that was delayed earlier this year due to sequestration.
Stars and Stripes
ABOARD THE USS TRUMAN — The air above the flight deck rippled as F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet fighter jets launched in regular bursts, each guided in a flash of hand signals by the teeming deck crew and flown by Marine and Navy pilots with handles like “Kooch” and “Cosmo.”
An iconic scene of American global power projection, the flight operations aboard this aircraft carrier as it steamed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea suggested — from an outside glance at least — that some sense of normalcy has returned to the ship after a period of uncertainty.
Sped up for a deployment in 2012, only to be delayed six months because of defense budget cuts, the Truman carrier group is finally underway for a nine-month tour through European and Middle East waters. During a brief media visit Thursday, leadership and sailors sought to portray operations as normal, suggesting the delay was even advantageous for the breathing room it offered.
“Although it was a little inconvenient, it allowed us to keep training,” Capt. Bob Roth, the ship’s commanding officer, said in brief comments.
The ship was south of Cyprus in the European Command area on Thursday where it was participating in maritime security operations before heading toward the Middle East. The fighter jets, part of Carrier Air Wing 3, were making standard training flights with inert ordnance.
What comes next for the carrier group, which counts a pair each of destroyers and cruisers among its numbers, remains to be seen.
Continued operations in Afghanistan will be a primary focus, but wild cards linger. The recent turmoil in Egypt joins a list that includes the civil war in Syria, the growing refugee crisis in Jordan, a low-boil unrest in Bahrain and a standoff in the Persian Gulf with a nuclear-aspirant Iran.
The carrier group will relieve the USS Nimitz carrier group, which deployed in March.
The Truman’s nine-month tour is longer than recent deployments, a result of the combined effects of budget cuts, a higher operation tempo in the Middle East and an ebb in carriers available for deployment — the Navy decommissioned the USS Enterprise in late 2012, and the USS Abraham Lincoln is in scheduled maintenance.
The same pressures forced Central Comamnd earlier this year to cuts its 2010 requirement that two carriers remain in the Middle East for nine months annually, a change expected to last through the next two fiscal years.
Future operations could also be affected by a second round of sequestration cuts in fiscal 2014, a possibility that would open a $14 billion gap between the service’s plans and its funding.
Sailors made available for media on board the Truman said they had more immediate concerns on a recent afternoon — the daily operations of the massive ship and well-being of its crew.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Harry Spruill, a logistics specialist from Camden, N.J., is tasked with keeping supplies available on the 90,000-ton ship, from screws to larger equipment. The months pass quickly in the daily grind of operations, he said, although some sailors are apt to feel homesick during the holidays.
The prior deployment plan called for the Norfolk, Va.-based carrier strike group to leave in February for a seven-month tour. Instead, its postponement, days before departure, upended the plans of families and single sailors. Many had already put their cars in storage and turned over their apartments. Families had prepared children for the absence of parents and planned their finances and future plans around the deployment.
Petty Officer 1st Class Margarett Tyler, a Navy counselor from Chicago, Ill., and her fiancé had plans to wed and start a family after the deployment; their plans shifted six months with the February announcement.
“What bothered me was I had my mind set, I was going to be gone for seven months—it was seven months back then—and I knew when I was going to be back,” she said.
More than half the ship’s crew of roughly 5,000 are making their first deployment, according to Roth, the ship’s commander. The Truman was coming off scheduled maintenance in 2012 when it learned that its deployment was to be moved up to February.
Cmdr. John A. Kalantzis, command chaplain on the Truman, repeated Roth’s assertion that the delay may have helped reassure the crew through additional training.
“I would say at the time it was stressful, but in hindsight, it became a good thing for sailors,” he said.