USS VELLA GULF, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) enjoyed an equator swim call and steel beach picnic Dec. 16 to commemorate the halfway point of the ship's current deployment.
The celebration followed a port call in Seychelles, where Vella Gulf Sailors enjoyed five days of liberty after nearly 80 continuous days at sea conducting Maritime Security Operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
"It was a long underway," said Command Master Chief Susan A. Whitman, of Piety Hill, Ill. "It was 78 days underway before we hit Seychelles, so the port visit, and then Halfway Day celebration, were a win-win situation. The crew needed the rest, and deserved the rest. Now we are back doing what we need to do for the mission."
While in Seychelles, Vella Gulf Sailors enjoyed the beaches, food and the culture of the beautiful island country, as well as participated in activities such as, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. There were also a variety of inexpensive island tours offered by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
After the port visit, the Halfway Day celebration started with a steel beach picnic on the ships' forecastle, then moved on to the swim call portion, where Vella Gulf Sailors dove into the Indian Ocean right at the equator.
"A swim call on the equator is pretty novel," said Lt. j.g. Michael Gieseking, Vella Gulf's navigation officer, from Orlando, Fla. "They are so rare to begin with, and to do one on the equator is something really different. The Command Master Chief was the one that really pushed for it. We had the 'Crossing the Line' ceremony on the way down, and she wanted to do something special crossing the line on the way back."
Sailors who took part in the swim call said it was a unique opportunity that they will cherish.
"It was the opportunity of a lifetime," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Kimberly Beck, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "This was my third deployment and I've never had a swim call before. To have it on the equator makes it even better. I will remember this forever."
One of the first Sailors to jump into the water was the Whitman.
"It was mostly everyone's first chance at a swim call," said Whitman. "We decided to do it just as we crossed the line for the second time on the way back from our Seychelles port visit. We figured if we have the opportunity, we will stop right on zero degrees and do it!"
Weather almost canceled the swim call.
"We almost called it off due to the weather," said Whitman. "It was really looking bad in the morning. Then everything fit into place right as we did the steel beach picnic when the sun came out."
After the memorable and historical swim call, there was a 5K fun run for those who had the energy left after the swim call. The celebration concluded with a flight deck talent show.
"I liked the talent show a lot because it helped to break up the monotony that we can sometimes experience out to sea," said Beck. "It's great to be able to see the people we work with everyday in a different light showcasing some of their talents."
The combination of the port call and halfway celebration made for a well-rested crew who were ready to get back to their mission and the rest of their deployment.
Vella Gulf is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO). MSO helps develop security in the maritime environment. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. MSO complements the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations and seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.
For more news from Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, visit www.navy.mil/local/iwoesg/.