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Navy strike group with last Marine F-18 squadron heads out on global security mission

USS Ralph Johnson (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Jiang/U.S. Navy)

The Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson was the last of four vessels to leave San Diego on Tuesday, June 9, as part of a deployment of the Nimitz Carrier Strike group.

Two other ships, the USS Sterett, a guided-missile destroyer, and the USS Princeton, a guided-missile cruiser, left the port in the last few days. The three ships will join the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, but before they headed out for the deployment they visited the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach in the last weeks.

Exactly where the strike group is headed was not released by Navy officials.

Before the deployment, sailors and Marines on board trained and tested their warfare capabilities in both simulated and live events to make sure they are ready for combat as a group.

“The men and women have demonstrated exceptional tactical and technical expertise, teamwork and toughness,” Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander of the carrier strike group, said about the team’s readiness. “We are honored to answer the call and operate forward.”

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The training exercises also gave units a chance to get acclimated with requirements now in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as training in face coverings, adhering to social distancing and reducing large gatherings. They also quarantined on land for 14 days before going on the ships.

The risks of a spreading virus, especially in light of the more than 1,100 sailors who tested positive on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, is not far from the minds of officials overseeing this deployment.

“Learning to operate in this COVID environment has not been easy, but the Nimitz crew has demonstrated their adaptability and resiliency in overcoming the challenges and have remained focused on maintaining readiness,” said Capt. Max Clark, commanding officer. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team in being ready to deploy on time, and mission ready to answer any call.”

Among the several squadrons participating in the strike group are the Mirarmar-based “Death Rattlers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323. They will be flying the F-18 Hornets.

This will be the Marine Corps’ last deployment to an aircraft carrier for Hornets, which are being replaced after nearly 40 years by the F-35 Lightning II. The F-35 Lightning II – a short takeoff and vertical landing craft – is one of two models of new-age fighters to be used by the Marines.

“They’re old, but they’re battle-proven said,” Lt. Zach Bodner, spokesman for the aircraft wing, said about the Hornet.

Among the pilots who will be flying the Hornets during this last mission is Capt. Meleah “Eleven” Martin, of Walkersville, Maryland, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

“My dream since becoming a pilot has been to take the Hornet ‘to the boat’ as we say,” she said.

While exact numbers of Marines and planes are not being released, a typical squadron consists of 300 to 450 Marines, which includes enlisted members, maintenance staff and pilots.

A typical aircraft carrier deployment lasts between six to nine months.

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© 2020 The Orange County Register