A U.S. guided missile destroyer ship has broken the record for the longest consecutive number of days at sea for a military surface vessel, the Navy said Tuesday, underscoring the effects of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The USS Stout reached 208 days at sea Sept. 26, spending nearly seven months in the Middle East and the North Africa area, known as the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. The previous record of 207 days, held by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS San Jacinto, was also set this year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Navy to cancel port visits to prevent sailors from being exposed while ashore.
Earlier this year, more than 1,000 sailors were infected with Covid-19 on board the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. One sailor died and the aircraft carrier was sidelined in Guam for weeks.
In an exclusive interview last month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the Navy has learned from the Roosevelt incident and has been successfully preventing transmission on ships, but he acknowledged changes, like fewer port visits and longer time at sea, have put more stress on the sailors and hurt their quality of life during deployment.
“We have to have ships stay at sea another month or so longer as they do their training and instead of taking leave right after training before deployment, they roll right into deployment,” he said.
“We're not pulling to port as frequently as we had before,” in order to avoid sailors being exposed to Covid-19, Gilday said. Instead, the ships do “stand-down days,” in which as many sailors as possible are given a day off.
“Everybody needs a break every once in a while and I do think that the toughest challenge, I believe in a situation like this, is trying to understand what that threshold is and not pushing it too far,” he said. “You kind of know when people are tired, people are frazzled."
The USS Stout deployed as part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group, but while the rest of the strike group returned home earlier this summer, the Stout stayed at sea. The Stout supported maritime security operations such as patrolling the Bab el-Mandeb strait and the Strait of Hormuz during the deployment.
“We are extremely proud of Stout’s accomplishments in theater as they’ve been operating to ensure freedom of navigation,” Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime Forces, said.
“Under the challenges of Covid-19 and the uncertainty of regional tensions, Stout embodied their motto and prevailed with ‘Courage, Valor and Integrity.’”