By Ensign Elizabeth Moon, USS Vella Gulf Public Affairs
The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) returned to homeport Naval Station Norfolk following an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation on Dec. 15.
Vella Gulf left Apr. 23 as an independent deployer supporting crucial maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation. Vella Gulf was in the Arabian Gulf for over six months providing important capabilities such as ballistic missile defense.
In July, Vella Gulf joined the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group Eleven (CSG)11 for three months during which the strike group conducted air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Vella Gulf remained in the Arabian Gulf after the strike group departed in October.
Vella Gulf conducted six joint operations with other nations to include Exercise Calibre Corsair with the Royal Moroccan Navy, Deck Landing Qualifications with the United Arab Emirates, Exercise Spartan Kopis, a Visit Board Search and Seizure Exercise with Pakistani Special Forces, a Tri-Lateral Exercise with Iraq and Kuwait, and most recently, Atlas Handshake with the Royal Moroccan Navy.
Sailors like Ensign Alec Phillips, the ship’s gunnery officer, found the joint operations with partners and allies valuable.
“I arrived to the ship halfway through deployment, but despite the short amount of time onboard, I have learned a lot working with the ship and with the strike group,” said Phillips. “The experience I have gained is something that I can take forward with me during the ship’s next deployment.”
Throughout the ship’s 237 days of deployment , Vella Gulf traveled 49,130 nautical miles, completing 26 underway replenishment operations, 18 small boat operations, 18 strait transits, and two swim calls in the Arabian Gulf. Vella Gulf was also able to experience the culture of the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation, with scheduled port visits inManama, Bahrain,Rota, Spain, and Agadir, Morocco while transiting through the 6th Fleet area of operation.
“This is my fourth deployment and every single one has been a learning experience,” said Gunner’s Mate Chief Petty Officer Anthony Sickler. This is a very young crew and I am impressed as to how quickly we came together to get the mission done.”.
Highlights during the deployment include a change of command ceremony held at sea, in which Capt. Rob Thompson relieved Capt. Mark Oberley as commanding officer of Vella Gulf,a retirement ceremony, a pinning ceremony for five newly selected Chief Petty Officers, as well as numerous crew achievements. Throughout deployment, the ship qualified 90 Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialists 4 Enlisted Air Warfare Specialists .and 8 Surface Warfare Officers.
One of these Sailors who earned their warfare pin was Seaman Nicholas Romano.
“I have learned so much on this deployment,” said Romano. “Despite being on board for only a short period of time, I was able to earn my ESWS pin because of all of the valuable time spent underway and all of the evolutions I had the chance to be a part of.”Additionally, embarked aboard Vella Gulf was Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 46, det. Four. With help from the ship’s flight deck crew, they logged 670 flight hours and 494 deck landings in support of anti-submarine and surface warfare operations utilizing two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters aboard the ship.
Although the ship was originally schedule to be home before Thanksgiving, the crew was called upon to extend twice due to critical real world operations and responsibilities. “I am inspired by the Sailors onboard Vella Gulf every single day,” said Capt. Rob Thompson, commanding officer.
Thompson said that the Vella Gulf crew is thankful to be home once again and excited to re-join family and loves ones for the holiday season.
“Throughout it all, they demonstrated incredible commitment and toughness and it was an honor to sail with them,” said Thompson. “I wish every American could be here on the pier today to celebrate the Sailors and their families who do so much to safeguard our freedom.”
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