The USS Theodore Roosevelt is heading home to Norfolk from war duty in the Arabian Sea with a record under its belt.
When the Roosevelt arrived at the island nation of Bahrain for a liberty call Feb. 27, it was the first time the ship had been in port since departing Norfolk on Sept. 19. The carrier's 160-day stretch is the longest any U.S. Navy ship has been at sea without pulling into port, according to Navy officials.
"She spent over five months without hitting a port," Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, told defense writers during a breakfast interview in Washington last week. "That's a kind of record I don't like."
On Feb. 19, the Roosevelt broke the previous record held by the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was at sea for 152 consecutive days in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis.
The Roosevelt and its 5,500-member crew have had a busy deployment, launching aircraft almost every day into Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led campaign against the al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban government that shielded it. The ship recorded more than 10,000 "traps," or cable-arrested landings, during that time.
Natter laughed when reporters asked if the Navy planned extra security to keep Roosevelt sailors in line during their port call in Bahrain, which, despite its location off the Arabian peninsula, is amply supplied with booze and dancers. He did not respond directly but said it would have been unreasonable for 50-year-old Navy officers to ask a ship full of 20-year-old sailors to forgo a port of call.
By the time the Roosevelt makes it back to Norfolk -- fleet officials expect the ship to arrive sometime before Easter -- it will have been at sea more than six months.
To avoid strain on sailors and their families, the Navy's objective is to limit deployments to six months. But Natter acknowledged that goal will be missed frequently as the Navy struggles to adjust deployment schedules to wartime needs.
"I'll exceed it in a heartbeat if that's what it takes," Natter said.
But he added that deployments would likely not stretch out by more than an extra month. "We don't exceed seven months with the current plan," he said.
The Roosevelt's return was delayed in part because the ship slated to replace it in the Arabian Sea, the USS John F. Kennedy, failed an inspection in December. The Navy relieved the ship's commander and began a rush effort to get the Kennedy ready to deploy, which the ship did in mid-February.
Natter was quoted in January in the Norfolk media as saying he would not deploy the Kennedy until the ship was ready, "and I don't care who whines about it."
Natter said he had to assure Roosevelt family members that the comment had not been directed at them and that he had heard no whining from them about the ship's lengthy deployment.
"There have been no complaints at all," he said. "They'd love to have their families back, but as long as the mission is there, they support it."
Spruced Up and Ready to Show Off
The USS Barry, a ship that has been a landmark on the Washington waterfront for nearly two decades, has a new lease on life.
The retired destroyer, a veteran of the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War, has been on display at the Washington Navy Yard for 18 years. After it sprang a leak more than a year ago, Navy officials said the ship would likely have to be scrapped.
But upon closer look, Navy Yard officials decided the ship could be saved. A major repair effort is now largely complete, and the refurbished Barry is open to visitors.
"We gave it an overhaul from stem to stern," said John Imparato, a spokesman for the Navy Yard.
The Barry was commissioned in 1956 and supported troops assigned to Beirut in 1958. In 1962, the Barry was part of a task force that quarantined Cuba after Soviet nuclear missiles were discovered on the island. The ship, which earned two battle stars during the Vietnam War, was decommissioned in 1982.
The Barry sprang a leak when workers were cleaning the ship's hull in September 2000. The destroyer began listing, forcing the workers at the Navy Yard to take emergency measures to stabilize the ship.
After examining the ship and finding widespread corrosion, Navy Yard officials made a preliminary decision to scrap the Barry. The plan was to tow the ship to Norfolk to be scrapped, and Navy Yard officials began studying candidates to replace the Barry on the waterfront.
But after further analysis, the Navy found it would be feasible and cheaper to repair the ship than to move it to Norfolk, an undertaking that would have cost at least $1 million.
"We found it would take a little work, but we could do it," Imparato said.
In addition to repairing corrosion, the Barry was spruced up with paint and made safer for visitors with the addition of railings and nonskid materials.
The repairs are likely not a permanent fix but will keep the ship safely afloat for some time to come. "We intend to keep it here several years at least," Imparato said.
The Barry is open to the public for free tours seven days a week.
Military Matters appears every other week. Steve Vogel can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.