Guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) with embarked Combat Element (CEL) 3 from the "Swamp Foxes" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 74 returned from a scheduled seven-month deployment, Dec. 30.
Mason departed Naval Station Norfolk June 1, as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (Ike CSG) after an extensive assessment period of two years, during which training and certifications were met to prepare the ship and its crew for all it would encounter.
"We are overjoyed to be reunited with family and friends, and the Hampton Roads community which has supported us so well the past seven months," said Cmdr. Christopher J. Gilbertson, of Minneapolis, commanding officer of Mason. "The crew worked very hard to prepare and when called upon to perform, they executed every mission flawlessly."
The crew performed admirably during 34 replenishments-at-sea, 27 strait transits, 30 sea and anchor evolutions and 37 small boat operations in both the U.S 5th Fleet and 6th Fleet areas of operations.
"Team Mason is thrilled to be returning home to our family and friends in time to ring in the new year," said Command Master Chief Ronn Shasky, of Mansfield, Ohio.
Shasky went on to say the deployment has been the "most rewarding and challenging" of his career.
"The family of Sailors here on Mason have answered every mission with determination, courage and a 'no-fail' attitude that is simply awe-inspiring," remarked Shasky. "I could not be prouder of this team and look forward to what lies ahead for the 'Blue Lions' of USS Mason."
CEL 3 conducted flight operations almost daily with 348 sorties resulting in approximately 925 hours of flight time.
"I think I expected this to be a normal deployment, one with moments of adventure and challenge, but not necessarily out of the ordinary," remarked Lt. Cmdr. Katie Lunser, of Holland, New York, air boss of CEL 3. "I brought CEL 3 from Jacksonville [Florida] with the expectation that we would integrate and become a team with Mason, but what I didn't expect was the level of which we would become one."
Lunser continued to say many people looking from the outside would say it was because of the challenges Mason's crew and CEL 3 weathered together.
"I can't deny that those experiences along with many others didn't lend a hand in the unity," said Lunser, "but more significantly, I believe that CEL 3 and Mason became a family because of the way we grew together and relied on each other not just during the times of adversity but during the moments when the rest of the world was not looking at us."
In October, Mason received indications of inbound missile threats while operating in international waters of the Red Sea with amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio (LPD 17) and afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (ASFB(I) 15). Mason Sailors' training kicked in and they employed both soft-kill and hard-kill responses to defend the Sailors and the ships in company.
USS Nitze (DDG 94) responded with limited defensive strikes and launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) against three radar sites on the Yemeni coast. The action was taken only to respond to Houthi militias' provocations on U.S. ships and limited the Houthi's capabilities in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait, therefore ensuring the free flow of commerce throughout the region and the world.
"Mason's deployment to U.S. 5th fleet was both dynamic and challenging," said Lt. j.g. James Sightler, of Greer, South Carolina, Mason's navigator. "The quartermaster team proved throughout that they were prepared to ensure Mason transited the globe and executed her mission safely."
Mason traveled approximately 63,916 nautical miles while transiting through the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Celtic Sea, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.
Notable events during the deployment included a visit from the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to promote his Great Green Fleet initiative with the Chief of the Italian navy Adm. Guiseppe De Giorgi, anti-submarine operations in the Indian Ocean, conducting maritime security operations with French and Italian navies, defending Mason and other ships from anti-ship cruise missiles off the coast of Yemen and escorting French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Base One Europe in Derry, United Kingdom.
"We had amazing port visits, and we built many bonds," said Hospital Corpsman Julie Crowley of Beverly, Massachusetts, "But I think the most amazing part for me, especially being my first tour, would be when things got real and being able to witness how quickly and effortlessly everyone's training became natural instinct -- which is precisely why we will be able to return to our loved ones and be able to hold them again."
Mason made port visits to Italy, Oman, Kingdom of Bahrain, Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom while working with seven different navies including France, United Kingdom, Turkey, Greece, Australia, United Arab Emirates and Italy.
"The Mason family was challenged in many ways, yet in every instance responded and exceeded all expectations," concluded Gilbertson. "This was not a normal deployment and every day I was amazed by the ingenuity and resiliency of the men and women of Mason. This is a very special crew and this was easily the most challenging and rewarding deployment I have had in nearly 29 years! I am more than proud of their performance and could not ask for a better team of professionals to have served with."
Source: US Navy
Date: Jan 2, 2017