It’s amazing what the crew of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Stout (DDG-55) has pulled off. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world, impacting their fellow sailors on other ships in unprecedented ways, Stout sailed on… And on… And on. This ship stayed at sea for a whopping 215 days straight and she has the wear and tear to show for it. The fighting ship looks like a set from a dystopian naval thriller, streaked in rust, her hull dinged and battered from the hard deployment.
The ship didn’t pull into a single port between early March and her arrival in Rota, Spain on October 3rd. In that period of time, she spent her time escorting ships, including Wasp class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) and the Nimitz class aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68), as well as executing a slew of other tasks in the 2nd, 5th and 6th Fleets’ areas of responsibilities. In that time, Stout executed three dozen consecutive underway replenishment cycles and executed maintenance that is usually done in port, while remaining at sea. The Navy stated the following in a release:
“As COVID-19 made frequent port visits unsafe, Stout competed the first modern Mid-Deployment Voyage Repair (MDVR) period at sea, spending a week executing scheduled maintenance and preservation to maintain mission readiness while deployed. Throughout the deployment, Stout’s technicians executed depot-level repairs on vital engineering and combat systems equipment.”
The previous record for consecutive days at sea was held by the Nimitz class supercarrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Ticonderoga class cruiser USS San Jacinto, both of which Stout supported on her cruise. Those ships had spent 206 days at sea due to the same circumstances. Prior to that, the record was 160 days.
The weathered destroyer finally pulled into Naval Station Norfolk on October 11th, 2020, ending her historic deployment. She hadn’t been home since mid-January and traveled over 60,000 miles on her extended voyage.
So, how did the crew stay sane bottled up for hundreds of days on a warship out at sea? The Navy writes:
“During that period the ship conducted morale events, like swim calls and steel beach picnics… To allow the crew time to relax and reenergize, they had a ‘rest & reset’ period at sea.”
A for how rough the ship looks, we asked our friend, Navy veteran, Defense News reporter, and the king of ‘running rust’ commentary, David Larter, his thoughts:
“She looks like she was put through the wringer. Look, they haven’t been in port, haven’t been able to do much topside preservation, I imagine. She gets a pass. But these long deployments and 208-day underways are going to take a toll on these ships inside and out. It’s honestly impressive they kept a quarter-century old ship in running form that long! But the Navy will have to pay the piper. This is unsustainable.”
He’s absolutely right when it comes to the sustainability of a fleet being pushed to the edge and beyond when it comes to deployments and operations tempo. This is especially relevant considering the service’s high ambitions of maintaining a future fleet of 500 ships, a goal that sits in stark contrast to the number and readiness of support and maintenance facilities available to maintain even the aging fleet the Navy already has, which is under 300 ships.
It also speaks to the retention of sailors that are being asked to work harder and longer, and, in these latest cases, seeing little of the world in the process. Regardless of the technology available today, the Navy still runs largely on raw manpower. Pushing sailors to the brink over and over again to contend with rising threats, the need to be seemingly everywhere, and now COVID-19, could have major readiness implications down the line.
Regardless, Stout’s crew deserves an extremely well-earned rest—on land. By the looks of it, so does the 26-year-old ship.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com