By Lt. Jonathan M. Okonak, Principal Assistant for Logistics, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)
Returning from a successful Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) deployment just in time for the holidays, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has every reason to be prideful, having completed a deployment that was the first of its kind, and serving as the operational benchmark for future deployers.
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USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits the Atlantic Ocean.–photo by MC2 Scott Swofford
Truman stood at the forefront of a significant change in our Navy’s execution of the U.S. National Defense Strategy that took place in mid-2018. The change in strategy put an emphasis on operational unpredictability, increased interoperability, and flexibility. This change led to Truman’s completion of a historic deployment under the now re-established DFE strategy.
From a logistics perspective, the shift from standard East Coast CVN deployments resulted in the establishment of an entirely new global logistics pipeline, further fortifying unit cohesion, and building new personal networks through expansion of infrastructure across Joint services and NATO allies. The completion of this historic deployment is a milestone for today’s naval forces, showing not just that we can operate in an austere cold weather environment, but that the logistics tail of an entire CSG can adapt, adjust, and succeed under restricted communications and an amorphous schedule wherever naval forces are required.
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Front row left to right: Lt. Mario Brooks, CWO2 Keerat Singh, Lt. Joseph Landon, Capt. Doug MacKenzie, Rear Adm. Grafton Chase, Cmdr. Christopher Kovack, Lt. Cmdr. Suneet Kundra, Lt. j.g. Jasmine Maupin, Lt. j.g. Tyrise Shepard-Lewis. Back row left to right: Lt. j.g. Jessica Helms, Lt. j.g. Bryan Prohaska, Lt. Jonathan Okonak, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Salire, Lt. Cmdr. William Hunt, Lt. j.g. Michael Sweat, Lt. j.g. Hector Camacho.
In July 2017, Truman departed Norfolk Naval Shipyard for sea trials one day prior to the scheduled completion of a nine-month planned incremental availability. After returning to homeport Naval Station Norfolk, we began the pre-deployment work-up cycle consisting of tailored ship’s training availability/final evaluation problem, pierside maintenance periods, carrier qualification exercises, a brief pause for the holidays, and then back out to sea for the month-long deployment certification Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX).
At the conclusion of COMPTUEX in February, following another brief maintenance period, we began our massive deployment loadout. Using lessons learned from previous deployers, we focused our efforts toward sustaining the strike group for seven months of cyclic flight operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR), a notorious heat stress inducing environment.
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USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) operating in the Norwegian Sea. –photo by Lt. j.g. Marc Rockwellpate
Two months later, in late April 2018, we, along with USS Normandy (CG 60), and the surface assets making up Destroyer Squadron 28 (DESRON 28), left Naval Station Norfolk, received Carrier Air Wing One (CAG 1), built up our flight ops proficiency, and began our trek across the Atlantic into the U.S. 6th Fleet AOR.
Transiting through the Straits of Gibraltar (STROG) and moving into the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, we began conducting combat sorties in Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. After a month in theatre, we stopped in Souda Bay, Greece, with the expectation to then transit through the Suez Canal into the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR. We never made our way toward the Suez, instead, we continued operating in the Mediterranean for another two months, making a brief stop in Marseille, France, for another port visit, and unpredictably heading back out of the STROG and continuing west toward Norfolk, Virginia.
Then suddenly, in late July, six days after the press had been notified, we returned to Norfolk. Not viewed as an official return to homeport, but as an extended port visit that would allow us ample time to conduct critical maintenance and improve the ship’s overall readiness. Additionally, this short, in-port period provided a much needed opportunity to allow Truman’s supply department to re-outfit our loadout in preparation for the termed “second phase” of deployment.
Knowing that the crew would face the brutally cold environment of the Norwegian Sea and high north, Truman’s supply department began preparing for all possibilities. With the strike group’s extraordinary success operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR during the 2016 deployment, it was relatively simple to figure out what items were required to maintain a combat-ready crew in a warm weather setting. Determining the needs for operating in an arctic environment, however, proved to be a challenging task.
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An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Sunliners” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81, prepares to launch from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). –photo by MCSN Joseph Phillips
The supply department turned to the pages of an old naval arctic manual from the 1980s. Aside from the standard cold weather items like heavy jackets, thermal undergarments and gloves, the instruction suggested de-icing equipment such as wooden baseball bats, wooden hammers, rubber mallets, and snow shovels to manually clear the snow and ice that the crew could potentially encounter. Additionally, the supply department used the practical suggestions from individual departments to outfit the ship with the items they needed to operate successfully. Supply procured a plethora of modern equipment to supplement their current loadout. These items, such as battery-powered leaf blowers to keep the pad eyes free of ice, individual office heaters for the outlying spaces of the ship, and highly-insulated search and rescue suits to protect the rescue swimmers, left Truman’s crew to depart Norfolk ready to face all challenges they could encounter over the next several months, challenges that a successful return to homeport indicate were not enough to stand in the way of the resilient men and women of the Truman.
From a logistics perspective, we went into the second phase of our deployment with a bit of uncertainty. Operating in the North Sea would require us to develop new muscle memory and look outside the standard logistics pipeline. After days of planning and coordinating with Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, Commander, Task Force 63 (CTF-63), NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Sigonella, Military Sealift Command and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Four Zero (VRC-40), we determined that in order to operate successfully in the high north, our logistics detachment would need to be comprised of smaller and more agile teams. They had to be capable of moving at a moment’s notice, but still maintain the ability to expedite operationally-critical materiel.
On the shore, our network of logistical professionals, provided by CTF-63 and the NAVSUP FLC network, rendered support around the clock from all over Europe, reallocating manpower to England and Norway. In one particular case, we flew a small team of Truman Sailors to Iceland to retrieve multiple high priority requisitions. At times, the logistics pipeline was unconventional, but collectively, we were more than capable of adapting to the occasion to meet any emergent needs of the strike group. We were able to swiftly acclimate to a challenging and constantly changing environment. The DFE deployment was a proud return for all of us aboard, and we have the blue noses to prove it.