Shortly after noon, the USS Harry S. Truman’s sailors had all seven radar antennas spinning. Then they raised the big red battle flag with its “Give ‘Em Hell” motto.
Shortly after that, Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Rice was the last sailor to come aboard, kissing sons Noah, 7, and Elias, 6, as they set down their big placard: “Duty can take you but Love will keep you.”
“Victory come,” Rice called as he started running to the carrier.
“It’s what we signed up for,” his wife, Lymarie, said. “When much is given, much is required.”
The Truman is leading a six-ship strike group, including the Royal Norwegian Navy frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen, which headed out to sea a few hours before the carrier. The group also includes the Norfolk-based cruiser USS San Jacinto, destroyers USS Cole, USS Bainbridge and USS Gravely and the Mayport, Fla.-based USS Jason Dunham. Carrier Air Wing 1 will fly out in the next day or two.
The Nansen has been operating with the strike group since late September, including through the monthlong pre-deployment Composite Training Unit Exercise.
This deployment marks the first time a Norwegian warship will deploy with a U.S. carrier strike group, and strike group commander Rear Adm. Curt Renshaw said the exercise showed it can do anything the group’s destroyers can.
“It’s important for Norway to operate with our ally … to maintain maritime security and law,’ said Norwegian Cmdr. Frode Nakken, who will serve on Renshaw’s staff.
As he spoke, the Truman’s sailors went about their final chores.
Most had been on the ship overnight, and the day of departure saw many head down with phones and laptops, said Lt. Cmdr. Christina Sears.
“You can hear them on the hangar deck,’” she said, holding a hand to her ear to mimic a phone conversation. ‘”Have you taken care of the insurance?’” Making sure automatic bill payments are set up, that spouses know where the car is parked and all the other last-minute tasks before leaving for several months is a major preoccupation, she said.
The last sack of trash went out at 12:29. At 12.45 the two dozen line handlers from Naval Station Norfolk had gathered on the pier — on board, the sailors who had that morning hauled in the electric cables connecting the ship to Norfolk Naval Station’s power grid were poised and ready to haul in the Truman’s mooring lines, though that wouldn’t actually happen for another hour and 10 minutes.
“I’ve got a great team. …. Yes, it’s all calm, but we spent the last month running around getting ready,” said Capt. Gavin Duff.
But he made a point of giving sailors plenty of time to spend with families — there were lot of early Christmas celebrations.
“It’s always hard leaving family, but there’s also the excitement — what’s next?” Renshaw said.
The last of the big portside elevators — the giant platforms that haul planes from hangar deck to flight deck — was raised by 1:15. At 1:30, sailors who had quickly changed into their dress blues were lining up along the edge of the flight deck. The tugs that would help ease the 1,090 foot long carrier into the channel arrived at at 1.45.
And right on schedule, at 2 p.m. the Truman’s horn blasted, the boatswain’s call rang out, “Ship’s colors,” and a chief petty officer lowered the star-spangled jack at the bow, while sailors ran a big U.S. flag up a line to the yardarm.
But the Stake family had arrived well before that, to wait by the pier to wave goodbye to Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Stake.
“He woke up and said, ‘Where’s Daddy?’” Shelly Stake said. It’s the first time 2-year-old Simon will have to wait through a deployment.
“It’ll be hard, I’ll just tell him, Daddy’s at work,” she said.
“I pray every day,” Wanda Stake, Shawn’s mother said, after Shawn, standing at the Truman’s bow waved back to his family.
“But that’s part of the job,” she said. “I’m very proud.”
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