Sailors conduct a replenishment at sea on board the littoral combat ship Sioux City (LCS 11) in the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 26, 2022. Sioux City was supposed to redeploy to Florida from US Naval Forces Europe's area of operation, but Hurricane Ian had other ideas. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas A. Russell.
Tapped to become the first littoral combat ship sent to Europe and the Middle East, the Sioux City’s crew hoped to return to their families in Florida.
But Hurricane Ian is barring the Blue Crew from their homeport at Naval Station Mayport.
Citing high winds and rough seas in the wake of the storm, the Freedom-class warship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Joseph Caldwell, announced that he’s been ordered to remain at sea until base authorities say it’s safe to steam for the pier.
The US Navy’s 4th Fleet now expects Sioux City to return this weekend or early next week, if Ian relents. And it won’t be the only Mayport vessel prowling the Atlantic Ocean, weathering a very ugly squall.
The littoral combat ship Minneapolis-Saint Paul sorties from Florida's US Naval Station Mayport in advance of the approaching Hurricane Ian Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. US Navy photo.
Warships began sorties out of port as Ian neared the peninsula. The first pushing off from the pier was the littoral combat ship Minneapolis-Saint Paul, which departed on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and was soon joined by three other vessels heading to sea.
Base officials said the guided-missile destroyer Jason Dunham and five other warships were stuck in port because of scheduled maintenance. To help prevent Ian’s rampaging waves from bashing them into their piers, crews placed the vessels in heavy-weather mooring.
All aircraft that could take to the sky went into “hurrevac” mode, with crews flying them to Alabama and other destinations far from Ian.
Rear Adm. Jim Aiken, the commander of US Naval Forces Southern Command and the 4th Fleet, said those preparations were tested “months ago through a Navy-wide exercise” and appear to have worked well before Ian arrived.
Twenty-eight MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters execute a hurrevac at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. The units arrived from Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport in preparation for Hurricane Ian making landfall. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juliana Todd.
Navy Region Southeast commander Rear Adm. Wes McCall said all bases in Florida and surrounding states remain open.
Before Ian walloped Florida, McCall authorized the evacuation of all nonessential personnel and families to designated safe havens at least 100 miles away from Melbourne, Florida.
On Wednesday, Naval Air Station Key West’s commanding officer, Capt. Elizabeth Regoli, lifted the shelter-in-place order at her base but urged sailors and their families to “remain vigilant of rising waters and high tides as we are still experiencing a bit of storm surge.”
Ian is expected to cross the northeastern stretches of Florida on Friday, unleashing torrential downpours that will trigger widespread flooding.
Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.
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