Families welcome USS Ronald Reagan home to Japan after ‘tough’ fall deployment
By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 4, 2017
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Ronald Reagan returned to its homeport in Japan Monday after a fall patrol highlighted by a rare tri-carrier exercise and a plane crash that killed three sailors.
Capt. Buzz Donnelly, the Ronald Reagan’s commander, suggested that early November’s four-day drills with the USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt strike groups east of the Korean Peninsula were a milestone of the outing that began in early September.
The training — which took place as President Donald Trump wrapped up his lengthy tour of five Asian nations — included air-defense drills, sea surveillance, defensive air combat training and close-in coordinated maneuvers.
“It is very complex whenever we have multiple carrier strike groups operating together, and that’s why we look for any opportunity to exercise that capability,” Donnelly said.
The last tri-carrier exercise took place in 2007 off the coast of Guam during exercise Valiant Shield. Since then, the Navy has occasionally conducted dual-carrier operations in the South China, East China and Philippine seas.
Petty Officer 1st Class Edgar Ibay, a hospital corpsman aboard the Ronald Reagan, said he’s looking forward to relaxing and spending time with family.
“It’s good to be back home after almost three months of deployment,” he said. “Out to sea is a lot of work … taking care of the sailors, taking care of the ship.”
The carrier’s crew accomplished a lot during the patrol, he said.
“It’s been pretty busy — nonstop,” he said. “We operate 24/7 to support the mission.”
That hectic schedule included port visits to Hong Kong and Busan, South Korea and sailing more than 15,000 miles, Donnelly said.
Tragedy struck toward the end of the mission when a C-2A Greyhound transport plane carrying 11 crew members and passengers went down on Nov. 22 while en route to the Ronald Reagan southeast of Okinawa.
Three sailors were killed in the crash: Lt. Steven Combs, Seaman Matthew Chialastri and Seaman Apprentice Bryan Grosso. Combs was embarked aboard the Ronald Reagan; Chialastri and Grosso were assigned to the carrier.
The crash’s cause is unknown. The Ronald Reagan was conducting an annual bilateral maritime field-training exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force at the time.
Navy spouse Tonya Lowery St. John, who was waiting pier side for her husband to arrive, said this patrol has been especially rough on Yokosuka families.
“There is nothing better than having the ship come home,” she said. “It has been a really tough year, and it’s great having all the sailors back for the holidays to be with their families. All deployments are tough, but this has been a really tough one and it’s so special to have them home.”