By Lt. j.g. Sarah Claudy and Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Will Hardy, USS Donald Cook Public Affairs
The crew of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) enjoyed a Thanksgiving celebration during a scheduled logistics stop in Varna, Bulgaria, Nov. 26.
The crew arrived in the Black Sea just in time to celebrate a Thanksgiving meal on the pier in Varna, directly in front of the ship. Heated and decorated tents held seating for the approximately 300 crew members, who attended in their Service Dress Blues.
“On Thanksgiving, we have the chance to remember and reflect on what we are truly thankful for,” said Yeoman 1st Class Alexis Deskins, ship’s secretary. “For me, it’s my family back in the States. Although I haven’t seen them in two years, they consistently have my back and keep me going every day.”
Cmdr. Kelley Jones, Commanding Officer of Donald Cook, expressed her thanks for the crew’s health during formal remarks. She also spoke about Donald Cook’s namesake, Vietnam Prisoner of War (POW) U.S. Marine Col. Donald Cook.
“Every day, we live in Col. Cook’s legacy, and it reminds us of the meaning of service and sacrifice,” said Jones, “Ultimately, we will return home and spend future Thanksgivings with our families. Col. Cook and 2,500 other POWs from the Vietnam War did not. But they are not forgotten; we have a spot for them here at our Thanksgiving table.”
Before serving dinner, Donald Cook’s Chief Petty Officer selects conducted a “Missing Man” ceremony, setting a small table for a missing POW. The ceremony was a poignant way to begin a night of celebration and thanks. Following the ceremony, Donald Cook’s Supply Department served an exquisite meal with all the Thanksgiving staples: turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.
“The culinary specialists, led by [Culinary Specialist 1st Class] Justin Holman and [Culinary Specialist 1st Class] Marlene Sloan, worked incredibly hard to prepare a meal for a crew of 300,” said Lt. Carlos Lopez, Donald Cook’s supply officer. “It was a fantastic meal that truly showed the culinary professionalism of S-2 Divison and allowed us to create a piece of home away from home.”
COVID-19 has made routine patrols particularly challenging, but Sailors aboard Donald Cook are finding ways to keep morale up. The ship’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation committee produced a talent show to accompany the dinner, during which members of the crew entertained each other with singing, dancing, and spoken word.
“COVID has made life tough for many Sailors,” said Deskins, “Especially those on deployments and patrols. We are doing our best to stay motivated and stay mission ready. What we know as ‘normal’ port visits no longer exist, so being able to take a break and enjoy a nice Thanksgiving meal with our shipmates is just what we need.”
Donald Cook was able to enjoy the festivities without masks or social distancing because the crew has maintained a COVID-free “bubble” for the duration of patrol. After receiving negative COVID tests for each crew member in September, Donald Cook established a quarantine to rigorously limit outside contact. The crew will protect their “bubble” until the completion of patrol.
Donald Cook is currently on its 11th Forward-Deployed Naval Forces-Europe (FDNF-E) patrol in the U.S. Sixth Fleet Area of Operation and entered the Black Sea, Nov. 23. Following the stop in Bulgaria, the ship will continue routine operations in the Black Sea to strengthen interoperability among NATO Allies and partners and demonstrate collective resolve to Black Sea security under Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The U.S. Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea consistent with international law, including the Montreux Convention.
Donald Cook is one of four U.S. Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and assigned to Commander, Task Force 65 in support of NATO’s Integrated Air Missile Defense architecture. In support of Sixth Fleet, these FDNF-E ships have the flexibility to operate throughout the waters of Europe and Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope to the Arctic Circle, demonstrating their mastery of the maritime domain.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners in order to advance U.S national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.