NORFOLK (NNS) -- The guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) returned to its homeport at Norfolk Naval Station, Dec. 15, following an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation.
Vella Gulf departed Norfolk April 23, as an independent deployer, to support maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf. With their ballistic missile defense capability, the cruiser and its crew were an asset there for more than six months.
In July, Vella Gulf joined the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Group for three months, during which they conducted air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. They also conducted six multinational operations with Morocco; United Arab Emirates; Pakistan; Iraq; and Kuwait.
"Despite the short amount of time onboard, I have learned a lot working with this team and the strike group," said Ensign Alec Phillips, the ship's gunnery officer, who reported to the ship halfway through deployment. "The experience I have gained is something that I can take forward with me during the ship's next deployment."
Nearly 200 days of the 237-day deployment were spent underway, including 59 consecutive days. The ship traveled 49,130 nautical miles, completed 26 underway replenishments, 18 small boat operations, 18 strait transits, and two swim calls in the Arabian Gulf.
The crew visited Manama, Bahrain on four occasions. They also visited Rota, Spain and Agadir, Morocco.
"This is my fourth deployment and every single one has been a learning experience," said Chief Gunner's Mate Anthony Sickler. "This is a very young crew and I am impressed with how quickly we came together to achieve our mission."
While deployed, the crew held a change of command ceremony in which Capt. Rob Thompson relieved Capt. Mark Oberley as commanding officer. They also celebrated the selection of five new chief petty officers, as well as 90 Sailors who qualified as Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialists, four who earned Enlisted Air Warfare Specialists pins, and eight who qualified as Surface Warfare Officers.
Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 46, Detachment Four was aboard the Vella Gulf throughout the deployment. With two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, the air crews logged 670 flight hours and 494 deck landings in support of anti-submarine and surface warfare operations.
The ship's operational requirements extended the deployment but allowed the crew to make it home for the Christmas and New Year's holiday.
"I am inspired by Vella Gulf Sailors every single day," said Thompson. "It was a challenging work-up cycle and a long deployment that saw two unplanned extensions and very few liberty ports. Throughout it all, the crew demonstrated incredible commitment and toughness; it was an honor to sail with them.
"I wish every American could be here on the pier today to celebrate the Sailors and their families who do so much to safeguard our freedom," Thompson added.
For more information on USS Vella Gulf please visit the ship's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/cg72.
For more information, visit www.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/usnavy, or www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/surflant/.