PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Two days after returning from Guam, the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s senior leaders stressed their appreciation and confidence in the multi-service, multi-agency response to the Navy’s COVID-stricken aircraft carrier.
“After being able to get to Guam and seeing the operation in action, Fleet (Master Chief James Honea) and I were enormously impressed, having watched the Sailors fight through this adversary to get back on their ship,” said Fleet Commander Adm. John C. Aquilino. “I’m more proud than ever having seen firsthand what our Sailors have had to do.”
Both leaders, separately self-quarantining now that they’re back in Hawaii, spent the weekend on Guam visiting USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), as well as various commands, Guam’s leaders, and some of the roughly 5,000 Sailors who were manning the ship, quarantined, or in isolation while their nearly 1,100-foot, 97,000-ton carrier went through a massive, aggressive cleaning.
The multiple stops left the men confident with the spirit of the Sailors and those taking care of them.
“The joint team – the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard – all came together to support shipmates in need,” Aquilino said. “They maintained the quality of health, quality of care, and quality of life for the TR crew across multiple locations on the island. An operation such as this has not been executed in my 36 years of doing this business.”
The Pacific Fleet Master Chief agreed.
“The magnitude and complexity of the support operations that they’re running over there are very well detailed and well-orchestrated,” Honea said. “It was developed without any kind of script or playbook to go by.”
Aquilino credited Guam’s governor and “the people and patriots of Guam,” who he and Honea said donated care packages consisting of personal items, snacks, and comfort items. They also appreciated the contributions of the USO through the base Chaplain.
Other support included Wi-Fi, phones for Sailors to call family back home, laundry services, and transportation. It’s the kind of care one would expect from family.
“We reinforced with the Sailors that we’re family,” Honea said. “We thanked them for their endurance and their strength of will and character to face this virus and to get back to sea.”
Thousands of Sailors returned to USS Theodore Roosevelt as the aircraft carrier prepares to return to sea.
“The Sailors are extremely eager to get back to sea,” Honea said. “This is a tough team that you wouldn’t want to take on. Don’t underestimate them.”
Some of TR’s Sailors themselves demonstrated some of that resilience and talked about adjusting and, as Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Jose Morris put it, “getting back into the groove.”
While a few admitted that social distancing or wearing masks every day might take getting used to, they shrugged it off as part of life.
“We don’t know (a lot) about this virus,” said Morris, from Oak Harbor, Washington. “It’s a new world that we live in that we have to adjust to.”
On board the carrier, Yeoman 2nd Class Amber Bennett, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, said she’s “being deliberately, overly paranoid” and has “a big thing of sanitizer” in her office that she ensures everyone uses before conducting business.
“I stay back away from the counter while I’m helping people, and we don’t let more than one customer in the office at a time,” said Bennett, who has five years of service.
Morris, who has been in the Navy for 19 years, is looking forward to returning to the flight deck.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “It gives you a sense of purpose of why you’re in the military.”
Still, getting some 5,000 people underway must be done with caution, Aquilino said.
“The Sailors on that ship have helped our Navy and this nation learn about this virus,” he said. “There is still more to learn. I’m confident that all those Sailors will get rid of this virus and we’ll put them back to sea only when they’re healthy.”
Both Aquilino and Honea stressed the positive impressions every TR Sailor left on them despite the dangers and strains, both physical and mental, of a threat they weren’t expecting.
“The Sailors on TR are the most experienced veterans in fighting this virus,” Honea said. “The leadership team there are developing a good plan to continue to deal with this virus when they go back out to sea and operate.”
Moreover, he said, the Sailors “can continue to lean on each other and have confidence in one another, and I know that they can overcome this. They’ve proven that already.”