After nearly two months on the sidelines due to an outbreak of the coronavirus, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class super carrier, is about to return to sea duty. The carrier’s new commanding officer, Capt. Carlos Sardiello, has had a reduced crew conducting a “fast cruise,” which simulates operations at sea. Within the next few days, the carrier will leave port from Guam with about two thirds of its standard crew, leaving behind around 1,800 Sailors for continued observation or care.
“Fast cruise is a major milestone for the ship and for the crew,” said Capt. Carlos Sardiello in a Navy press release. “Our Sailors have tested all of the ship’s systems individually, but this is our opportunity to integrate all of that together and show that Theodore Roosevelt is ready and able to go back to sea.”
Getting the massive carrier ready for action has been no small undertaking. After more than a thousand sailors from the Roosevelt tested positive for COVID-19 and one Sailor unfortunately lost his life due to complications tied to the virus, the carrier has been crewed by a rotating staff. In order to return to duty, each Sailor had to first undergo quarantine and then get negative results back from not one, but two tests looking for the virus. Thus far, more than 2,900 Sailors have been cleared to return to duty.
“We passed a rigorous certification process before deployment, validating the crew’s ability to safely navigate, launch and recover aircraft and respond to on-board emergencies,” said Lt. Cmdr. DeCrisha Nolan, Theodore Roosevelt’s training officer. “We are applying that same standard to fast cruise to ensure that we can complete any mission the Navy asks of us.”
Numerous adjustments have also been made for day to day practices aboard the ship, even after the thorough screening each Sailor has to undergo prior to returning to duty. Practicing and implementing these changes were another essential part of the fast cruise process during these times of unprecedented challenges.
Once at sea, the USS Theodore Roosevelt will take on its next challenge: underway training and carrier qualification. The fast cruise has demonstrated that the mighty ship is sea-worthy with its crew, but carrier qualification means conducting the most complex and dangerous of carrier operations: launching sorties of aircraft. The 1,800 or so crew members that will remain on Guam are not essential for flight operations, so leaving them behind temporarily is seen as a safety measure on multiple fronts. Not only will fewer Sailors on board allow for more social distancing, but it will also grant some Sailors more time to be cleared of infection or to receive treatment if they do become ill.
Once the air wing operations have been successfully demonstrated, the remaining crew of the Roosevelt will return to duty aboard the carrier once they have all passed screening for the coronavirus. Although the past few months have been difficult for the ship and its crew, it now looks like the U.S. will have another 4 1/2 acres of sovereign U.S. territory back in the fight sooner rather than later.