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Back home in Norfolk at last, USS Winston S. Churchill sailors opt for vaccination

USS Winston S. Churchill arrives at Naval Station Norfolk after a nearly eight month deployment.

TNS

By DAVE RESS | The Daily Press | Published: March 19, 2021

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Coming home after nearly nine months at sea, sailors on USS Winston S. Churchill took a moment before leaving the guided missile destroyer to get a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

While the pandemic hung over the ship — as with the rest of the world — through its mission in the Middle East, Churchill completed its work without a single sailor falling ill, said Cmdr. Timothy Stanley, the ship’s commanding officer. That work included escorting merchant vessels through dangerous waters, intercepting weapons and even helping an Iranian dhow with food and supplies when it got into difficulties on the Arabian Sea.

But awareness of the pandemic never faded.

“I’d say a majority of the crew are getting vaccinated,” Stanley said, speaking shortly after receiving his own shot. He credited strict attention to Navy guidelines about masks and social distancing.

“We did a lot to keep morale high,” he said.

In addition to maintaining regular contact with families back home, sailors organized a series of events — casino nights, karaoke and contests — to keep spirits up.

The Churchill, along with the embarked Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70, traveled over 60,000 miles during its deployment.

The deployment included 14 transits of the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb at the southern end of the Red Sea, nine of which involved escorting other vessels, and 8 trips through the Strait of Hormuz, the critical choke point through much much of the world’s oil is shipped.

While off the coast of Somalia last month, checking on two dhows that weren’t registered in any nation, the Churchill seized a cache of thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and other weapons and parts.

The Churchill’s visit to Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, was the first by a U.S. warship in three decades.

The Churchill’s sailors went into a 14-day restriction of movement on June 22, before getting underway for exercises and training before deployment, which officially started Aug. 10.

dress@dailypress.com

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