The Navy sent another carrier on a rare trip to the high north. Here’s how sailors kept it going in harsh conditions around Alaska

USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in Gulf of Alaska
USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Gulf of Alaska after exercise Northern Edge 2019, May 25, 2019.

  • US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed to Alaska in May for exercise Northern Edge.
  • The carrier took part in the exercise in 2019, when it became the first carrier to do so in 10 years.
  • The trips reflect the Navy’s increasing focus on the Arctic and its efforts to get used to operating up there again.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hot, long days and dangerous working conditions are typical for Petty Officer 2nd Class Austin Moore, whose job is helping launch and recover aircraft from the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The carrier routinely deploys to the Indo-Pacific region, where the warm weather adds to the heat on the deck and steam from the catapults. Moore’s complex duties only get harder when the carrier does nighttime flight operations.

When the flattop arrived in the Gulf of Alaska in early May for Northern Edge 2021 – a two-week exercise involving 15,000 sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen – Moore looked forward to wrapping up a six-month deployment in unfamiliar surroundings, bundling up against the cold for operations in a region where the sun barely sets at this time of year.

F/A-18 fighter jets take off from USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrer
Two F/A-18 Super Hornets launch from USS Theodore Roosevelt, April 29, 2021.

“Having that opportunity to have a daylight all day, we were always on our game, always a step ahead,” Moore told Insider.

The carrier’s trip reflects the Navy’s increasing presence in and around the Arctic, prompted by increasing Chinese and Russian activity there.

Lawmakers, including Rep. Elaine Luria, a retired Navy commander, have also sought to increase the US military’s focus on the region.

Last month, Luria and other legislators introduced a bill that would require the Pentagon to complete an Arctic security assessment and develop a five-year plan to give the services the resources necessary for specific strategic needs in the region.

“The Arctic is where the future of military conflict and free trade will be decided,” Luria said in a statement.

Building up ‘core knowledge’

Crew on flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt flight deck
Sailors watch flight operations aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt during Exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 7, 2021.

Building sailors’ muscle memory for operations in those increasingly accessible waters has important implications for the fleet.

“We haven’t had sailors operating since in these areas since the late ’80s, since the end of the Cold War, so a lot of that core knowledge is no longer there, except for those of us who have done it,” said Lt. Alex Morgan, the Theodore Roosevelt’s assistant navigator.

“So it’s really important that we capture these experiences” and share them across the service, added Morgan, who plans the carrier’s movements. “One of the nice things is that nobody stays in one place very long, so we’ll be in ships and squadrons across the fleet within just a couple of years.”

Sailors load missile on fighter jet on USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier
Sailors move ordnance across the flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt during Exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 7, 2021.

The last 16 months have been tumultuous for the crew of Theodore Roosevelt.

A COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 lead to the death of one chief petty officer and sidelined the carrier for weeks following the ouster of its popular commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modley resigned after his remarks to the crew during a visit drew widespread backlash.

The carrier returned to San Diego in summer 2020, but that homecoming was brief. Now, after a “double pump” deployment, the carrier and about 3,000 crew members are switching homeports to Bremerton, Washington.

The flattop will undergo maintenance at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, including an upgrade to enable the flight deck to handle the F-35C.

The operations off Alaska capped a chaotic period for the crew and offered them a new set of challenges: cold weather, low visibility, stiff winds, long supply lines, and marine wildlife.

“We started all that planning when we’re operating off the coast of Guam, which was obviously a vastly different experience – warm temperatures, high humidity,” Morgan said. “Within the space of the week, we went from sweating at every step to bundled up and seeing our breath on the bridge. So it was definitely a mentality shift.”

E-2C Hawkeye launches from USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier
An E-2C Hawkeye launches from USS Theodore Roosevelt during Northern Edge 2021, May 3, 2021.

Theodore Roosevelt also participated in Northern Edge in 2019, the first time a carrier had done so in 10 years. Morgan and others said they leaned on the playbook from that experience.

“In 2019 the carrier was more limited,” said Morgan, who participated in the exercise for the first time this year. “We had to be closer to shore. We had more flexibility this time because our pilots were certified to operate farther from land.”

While the Navy trains to operate around marine wildlife, crew members said they were surprised by how often they spotted whales and dolphins.

“We had to be very cognizant of where we were operating and keep a good lookout,” Morgan said.

Water temperatures ranged from the high 30s to low 40s Fahrenheit, markedly different from the 80-degree water temperatures around Guam, said Capt. Eric Anduze, Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer. Keeping sailors warm became a priority, including shortening rotations to help “maintain awareness.”

“When you live in a floating metal box, it really permeates through the skin of the ship and makes everything extremely cold,” Anduze said.

Sailors signal F/A-18E fighter jet on USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier
Sailors signal an F/A-18E Super Hornet before it launches from USS Theodore Roosevelt during exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 4, 2021.

A person in water that cold can only survive about 20 minutes, said Ensign Jorge Miguel, a bridge officer of the deck. That leaves an extremely small window to maneuver the carrier and the resources necessary for search and rescue if someone goes overboard.

“You don’t want to wait 20 minutes,” Miguel said. “By then it’s too late.”

A lingering weather system created days of low visibility, reducing the ability to launch aircraft, Anduze said.

Operations slowed but didn’t stop, and that low visibility made extra vigilance necessary, Miguel said.

“If you’re not able to see out the window and see any contacts out there, at that point you’re relying on radars to see what you have in front of you and make the best decision with what you have available to you,” Miguel said.

Poor weather also caused problems for pilots one day during the exercise, forcing them to divert to an Air Force base inland, Morgan said. With the pandemic ongoing, the crew did not want to strand pilots overnight.

USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier near Alaska
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Gulf of Alaska during Exercise Northern Edge 2021, May 7, 2021.

“One of the unique things about being an aircraft carrier is you can always move the airport, but it was so thick that day, we had to delay recovery by several hours,” Morgan said.

“That was a lot of work between our air department [and] our meteorologists on board. We were working with the strike group and just trying to figure out where we can position the ship so that we can recover those aircraft before sunset,” Morgan added.

While longer days meant more light on the flight deck, Moore, who was aboard for the 2019 exercise, said they also made it more difficult to rest. Sleep deprivation is a major readiness problem for the Navy.

For Miguel, the experience presented a challenge partly because it was brand new, but he said novelty shouldn’t be an obstacle.

“Whether we’re in Alaska or, say, Fifth Fleet or Seventh Fleet, it doesn’t really matter. We should be able to execute and use to training that we’ve gone through to execute accordingly,” he said.

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Warship captains told the skipper of a COVID-stricken aircraft carrier he was ‘doing what is right’ just before the Navy fired him, emails show

Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), gives remarks during an all-hands call
Capt. Brett Crozier, then the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), gives remarks during an all-hands call in Dec. 2019.

  • The US Navy fired a carrier captain after he wrote a letter about a coronavirus outbreak that leaked.
  • After an investigation, the Navy stood by its decision to relieve Capt. Brett Crozier of his command.
  • Emails show that fellow warship captains believed Crozier was “doing the right thing.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Warship captains showed strong support for the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, in emails sent just before the Navy fired him, Task & Purpose reported Friday.

A collection of 1,200 emails sent to and from Crozier’s email between March 25, 2020 and April 2, 2020 that were obtained by Task & Purpose and reported by Jeff Schogol reveal that Crozier had not only the support of his crew when he was relieved of his command, but also the support of fellow skippers.

The Navy publicly acknowledged that there was a COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt on March 24, 2020, revealing that three sailors had tested positive.

The number of coronavirus cases soared within a matter of days as the carrier was forced into port in Guam.

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation Jan. 25, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation Jan. 25, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific.

On March 30, medical professionals aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt warned that sailors would die if they were not evacuated immediately. That same day, Crozier sent an urgent plea up the chain of command calling for the evacuation of the majority of the crew. “Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote.

“If there is ever a time to ask for help it is now regardless of the impact on my career,” Crozier wrote.

The letter, which was also sent to some Navy personnel outside Crozier’s chain of command, leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle and published in full on March 31, and on April 2, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired Crozier for “poor judgement.” Modly resigned a week later after a series of missteps, which included speaking ill of the captain to his crew.

“I read your letter yesterday in the SF Chronicle,” Capt. Matthew Paradise, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, wrote in an email to Crozier on April 1.

“I thought it was awesome and a textbook example of speaking truth to power and taking care of your troops,” he said.

Another email obtained by Task & Purpose was from Capt. Sean Bailey, then the commanding officer of the carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

“I know you are feeling an immense amount of heat and outside pressure from everything that is going on right now, but wanted to let you know that the people who matter still support you,” the captain wrote in an email sent on April 1.

“I admire your commitment to communicating candidly to leadership and I’m confident that the ‘leak’ to the SF Chronicle was someone else’s misdirected motivation,” Bailey said. “I know that you are doing what is right to take care of your Sailors and your ship.  Let me know if I can help.”

In a March 31 email to the captain, Cmdr. Patrick Eliason, then the skipper of the destroyer USS The Sullivans, thanked Crozier for “having the guts” to write the letter that ultimately derailed his career.

After he was relieved of his command, Crozier departed his ship, but he did so to the sound of his crew chanting his name. Modly was angered by videos of this send-off and flew to Guam afterwards to address the crew, a trip that would cost him job and taxpayers an estimated $243,000.

After a preliminary investigation, Navy leaders recommended late last April that Crozier be reinstated, but they changed their minds after a deeper investigation.

“Had I known then what I know today, I would not have made that recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier. Moreover, if Capt. Crozier were still command today, I would be relieving him,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said last June.

He argued that Crozier “fell well short of what we expect of those in command.”

The Navy battled the outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt for months and did end up eventually evacuating the majority of the crew as more than one thousand sailors tested positive for COVID-19. A number of sailors were hospitalized by the virus, and one sailor died.

Read the original article on Business Insider