A sailor reunites with her family following the return of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) to Naval Station Norfolk, on Nov. 26, 2022. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kris R. Lindstrom.
On its maiden cruise, the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford sailed 9,275 nautical miles, launched 1,250 sorties, blew out more than 78 tons of ordnance, and completed 13 underway replenishments. To US Navy leaders, that all added up to one outstanding voyage.
In a prepared statement released as the flagship flattop returned to its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday, Nov. 26, the carrier strike group commander, Rear Adm. Greg Huffman, called his air and warship crews “awe-inspiring” during a tour that began Oct. 4 and took them to the North Atlantic.
"This deployment laid a strong foundation for the strike group, created momentum to carry us forward for future operations, and has prepared us to answer our nation's call when needed," he said.
While Ford was still underway, its air crews flew home to their bases in Virginia on Friday, but one squadron had to keep jetting more than 2,100 nautical miles west.
According to California-based Naval Air Forces, the “Gray Wolves” of Electronic Attack Squadron 142 landed their EA-18G Growlers Friday on Whidbey Island, Washington.
The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford returns to Naval Station Norfolk, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, following its inaugural deployment with the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group. More than 4,600 sailors assigned to Gerald R. Ford operated under the US 2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet alongside allies and partners in European waters. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jackson Adkins.
Ford’s US Navy escorts, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser Normandy and the guided-missile destroyers McFaul and Ramage also returned to their Norfolk piers.
Officials told Coffee or Die the destroyers’ sister Arleigh Burke-class warship, Thomas Hudner, made it home to Florida’s Naval Station Mayport, too.
It took five years for Ford to slip out of its pier for what the brass termed a “service-retained deployment,” a teaser tour roughly a third the duration of the typical carrier cruise.
That’s because the $14.3 billion Ford, the lead ship in its class of high-tech carriers, was plagued with problems, including flaws in its propulsion and electrical systems; dual-band radar that wasn’t always reliable; gremlins spooking its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and Advanced Arresting Gear; and missile and bomb elevators that weren’t completed, tested, and certified until Dec. 22, 2021, nine months before the deployment kicked off.
Sailors on board the first-in-class aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford man the rails as the ship returns to Naval Station Norfolk, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, following the inaugural deployment with the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nolan Pennington.
All of that was put to the side on Saturday.
Navy leaders lauded Ford’s deployment, especially its part played alongside eight allies and partners in European waters, a tour capped by NATO’s Silent Wolverine war games.
"This deployment brought together an incredible group of allies and partners with one single focus – to contribute to a peaceful, stable, and conflict-free Atlantic region through our combined naval power,” said Vice Adm. Dan Dwyer, the commander of the US 2nd Fleet, in a prepared statement. “Opportunities to interoperate and integrate make our nations, our navies, and the NATO alliance stronger."
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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