USS Stennis is first US carrier in Persian Gulf after long absence — just in time for Christmas
By JOSHUA KARSTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 22, 2018
The USS John C. Stennis will spend Christmas in the Persian Gulf after the carrier strike group sailed through the Strait of Hormuz on Friday, arriving during a time of increased threats from Iran and ending an eight-month carrier absence in the region.
The long absence of a U.S. carrier in the Gulf broke the regular flow of carriers to the region since 9/11 and could be the new norm under outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' dynamic force employment policy, meant to show more unpredictability to U.S. adversaries.
“We’re switching it up because our adversaries are watching closely,” said 5th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Chloe Morgan, according to The Associated Press. “We want to be operationally unpredictable to our enemies, but strategically predictable to our partners."
Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Anderson, a USS Stennis spokeswoman, told Stars and Stripes that the carrier group plans to operate in the Gulf throughout the holidays and celebrate with holiday meals, religious services and individual celebrations.
Anderson said all sailors on the Stennis can communicate with loved ones back home and the crew will enjoy some R&R while in the Gulf at an undisclosed time and location.
Despite working through Christmas, the crew appears to be in good spirits, releasing a cheerful message on Facebook.
“Merry Christmas Mommy, Gracie, Ally and James. I miss you all very much, and I wish you a most happy Christmas,” said an aviator in a Santa hat.
“Happy Holidays to everybody on the John C Stennis, everybody in Maryland and my whole family,” said a food service assistant.
Anderson emphasized that the Stennis will maintain flexibility and rapid redeployment readiness amid the Christmas celebrations.
“The John C. Stennis team is thankful for all of the support from loved ones back home,” Anderson added. “We are proud to be a mission-ready platform, fulfilling the nation’s tasking.”
The Stennis has not had any “unsafe" interactions with Iran or any maritime force since arriving in the 5th Fleet area, Anderson said, although The Associated Press reported Friday that Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the Stennis and even filmed the ship using a drone. Iranian officials have returned to threatening to close off the Strait.
The Stennis arrived in the 5th Fleet theater in December to conduct operations with the USS Essex and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, an anti-terrorism exercise that provided armed support to Afghan security forces. The Stennis also teamed up with U.S. Navy ships Stockdale and Spruance and French and Australian navies in an anti-submarine exercise.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher, from left, the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew, the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe and the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay transit the Strait of Hormuz, Dec. 21, 2018.
JARROD A. SCHAD/U.S. NAVY