SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif — More than 5,000 sailors and Marines assigned to the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group returned to San Diego Friday after nearly 11 months deployed in the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operation.
The carrier strike group was the first to embark on a deployment for the Navy after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and was comprised of aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, the cruiser USS Princeton and the destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson. Embarked Carrier Air Wing 17 was also aboard the Nimitz.
The crew of the strike group were deployed for 321 days, compared to a more typical six-month deployment. The strike group had the longest deployment since the Vietnam War. It was lengthened by COVID-19 protocols that called for a quarantine before departing and the elimination of port calls during the deployment.
"The sailors and Marines of Nimitz Strike Group and their families have given it their all for almost a year," said Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander of Carrier Strike Group 11. "They successfully kept COVID out of the strike group beginning in April of 2020, and stayed healthy throughout our time standing the watch for our nation.
"These young men and women worked tirelessly to incorporate mitigations that ensured the health, safety and readiness of the crews. They made important contributions to the security and stability in the Middle East, Africa and Western Pacific during a period of tension and transitions. I am immensely proud of this team and all that they accomplished during this unprecedented deployment," Kirk continued.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visited the Nimitz Thursday as it sat off California's coast to thank the crew for its work.
Austin took to Twitter to echo his praise of the strike group's crew.
"I just couldn't be more proud of the women and men of USS Nimitz for their hard work and dedication over the last ten months," he wrote. "What they have endured and accomplished is an example of the best the U.S. military has to offer. From all of us: Welcome Home."
The flagship crew walked aboard Nimitz on April 1, 2020, at its homeport Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, Washington. Sailors stationed in San Diego embarked later that week aboard Princeton and Sterett for a restriction- of-movement period to ensure the health and safety of the crew during the pandemic.
The strike group departed San Diego for deployment June 8 following integrated training.
While deployed, the strike group completed five dual carrier operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operation with the Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Groups, and participated in the India-hosted multinational exercise Malabar 2020 with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Australian Navy in the Bay of Bengal.
In the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation, the strike group supported Operation Freedom's Sentinel as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, and Operation Inherent Resolve with close air support and defensive counter-air missions against ISIS.
It provided support to the 33-nation coalition Combined Maritime Forces and the 8-nation coalition International Maritime Security Construct to ensure the free flow of commerce and maritime security in three critical waterways. The strike group also operated off the coast of Somalia in December during a repositioning of U.S. forces within East Africa.
"It's hard to express in words the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride felt by all hands aboard Nimitz as this long deployment comes to a close," said Capt. Max Clark, Nimitz's commanding officer. "I am so very proud of this crew, and the grit and teamwork they demonstrated day in and day out to complete all missions assigned. They and their families have my deepest respect and gratitude."
Overall, the carrier strike group steamed more than 87,300 nautical miles during its deployment. The carrier launched 10,185 sorties totaling 23,410 flight hours logged, the Department of Defense announced.
After disembarking the carrier air wing, Nimitz will return to its homeport in Washington.