By Ensign Claire Longabaugh
USS The Sullivans
Ballistic missile defense capable, guided missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) will return to homeport 4 September 2016 after over seven months forward deployed to the 5th and 6th Fleet Areas of Responsibility.
The Sullivans independently deployed 26 January 2016. After crossing the Atlantic Ocean and refuelling in Funchal, Portugal, the Ship stopped in Bar, Montenegro. While in Montenegro the Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) Team conducted a training exercise with their Montenegrin counterparts. A NATO film crew participated in recording the training, which included a non-compliant boarding, small boat maneuvering, and a demonstration of the gear utilized by The Sullivans' VBSS Team. "We experienced how other navies operate. You can't participate in international exercises without gaining knowledge on how to fight better on some level," said Boarding Officer Lt.j.g. Bryan Bailiff. Montenegro was the first liberty for deployment, providing Sailors an opportunity to see a country only one other US Navy ship has pulled into. The Crew received a warm welcome, and the residents of Bar set up guided tours of the city.
After leaving Montenegro and successfully transiting the Suez Canal in spite of an emergency anchorage due to a vessel ahead of The Sullivans running aground, the Ship entered the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. The Sullivans directly supported the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group while she conducted air strikes against the Islamic State into Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. After detaching from the Truman Carrier Strike Group, The Sullivans participated in multiple international exercises during her tenure in the Gulf: International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX), Iron Siren with the United Arab Emirate Navy, and a Bilateral Exercise with the Kuwaiti Navy. These exercises enhanced international relations with critical US partners in the Middle East, especially since the Crew had the opportunity to host nine foreign officers, including Kuwaiti Colonel Nayef Alaskar, Commodore of Combined Task Force 152, which provided a unique perspective on the exercises. During the theater carrier gap, The Sullivans was critical in maintaining a strong American presence, as well as promoting maritime security by conducting 74 Assist and Assist / Approach, Assist, and Visit missions. The Sullivans remained on station in the Arabian Gulf until the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group arrived.
While making her way through the Mediterranean from her last port call, The Sullivans diverted to report on station with the Wasp Amphibious Readiness Group in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning while conducting strikes against the Islamic State in Lybia. The Sullivans' successful deployment in 5th Fleet, especially the performance of her Strike Team, made her the most competent asset to support the operation. "What you guys are doing here by being on station means I can guarantee a safe place for the pilots to come home to," said CAPT Bryan Ogden, Cmdr. Amphibious Squadron SIX, during his visit to the Ship. "Your role in this mission is critical - we could not do this successfully without your support." Once the job was done, The Sullivans turned her bow toward home.
During every assignment, operation, or exercise, Sailors routinely and safely executed dangerous jobs with excellence. Besides regular small boat operations, the Crew spent over 50 hours at flight quarters, even standing in as the ready deck for landing and launching helicopters during Operation Odyssey Lightning. The Sullivans also needed to refuel roughly once a week during deployment. Over the course of 27 Replenishments at Sea, the Ship received 4,602,788 gallons of fuel. Internally, the Ship was almost continuously in a Training Team environment so that Sailors could maintain proficiency or earn their next qualification. Whether training for damage control, engineering, medical, combat systems, anti - terrorism or shipboard casualty control, the Crew worked hard to be prepared for any emergency. Over 20 small arms and gun shoots were also conducted to qualify watchstanders and keep the weapons systems that protect The Sullivans firing accurately.
Even when granted time of inport, the Crew of The Sullivans conducted themselves as professionals during each of their 10 port visits. The five months The Sullivans spent in the Arabian Gulf were broken up by six port visits - Abu Dhabi, Dubai twice, and Manama, Bahrain, three times. These port stops allowed the Crew to rest, take tours and experience Middle Eastern culture, or do work on the Ship and gear that needed to be done inport. While in the United Arab Emirates, about a third of the Crew went on a sunset safari. From dune riding, to riding camels, to having a traditional Bedouin meal, the Sailors who participated in the tour had a fun time learning about this region of the world. Bahrain provided a small taste of home, whether eating in American Alley for dinner or seeing Captain America: Winter Soldier in the movie theater on base. After leaving the Arabian Gulf, The Sullivans' last liberty port was Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Palma de Mallorca offered a wide range of activity from city tours to cave tours to wine tours. During these port calls, more than 100 Sailors also invested their personal liberty in community relations projects, spending over 700 hours of their time off Ship fostering positive community relations with school children, people going through drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and participating in cultural understanding events.
"We have an exceptional Crew. The way they sacrifice their personal time goes to show just how dedicated and motivated this amazing group of Sailors is," said Command Master Chief Milly Rivera-Fisher.
Deployment was a remarkable time for The Sullivans due to the individual successes achieved by her Sailors. Over 70 Sailors earned their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) pins, 21 Junior Officers earned their Surface Warfare Officer designations, and 52 Sailors and Officers put on the next rank.
"I am unspeakably proud of the phenomenal performance of the Crew," said Cmdr. Gil Clark, The Sullivans' Commanding Officer who took command in May. "When I took command, I explained my philosophy was about winning at warfighting, achieving personal goals, and taking care of the needs of our Sailors. They took on challenges and overcame them on an individual level, and we overcame obstacles at a unit level, showing over and over that we are the best Ship in the world's greatest Navy. The men and women onboard The Sullivans are the kind of warfighters that will keep the Navy strong and this Nation free."
After sailing 44, 567 nautical miles, the pier will be full of family and friends waiting for their Sailors to come home, and The Sullivans' Crew is ready to spend time with their new babies, excited families, and proud parents.