SAN DIEGO -- The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and embarked Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 Detachment 2 returned to Naval Base San Diego (NBSD), Aug. 22 after circumnavigating the globe.
Cape's crew completed a nine-month deployment in support of the U.S. 5th, 6th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility (AOR) while operating forward.
While deployed, Cape served as Air Defense Commander in the 5th Fleet AOR for six months, monitoring several million square miles of water with roughly two dozen ships, and escorted the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) to her new homeport of Norfolk, Va.
Cape sailed more than 70,000 nautical miles, the equivalent of three and a half times around the Earth at the equator. Cape completed 259 days deployed, more than 230 of them at sea, with 105 days supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
"It's been a lifelong dream to sail around the world," said Capt. Don Gabrielson, commanding officer of Cape St. George. "To accomplish this alongside Cape's amazing Sailors was an honor and a privilege beyond words. It was a huge challenge, but it was just as rewarding as it was difficult."
Cape Sailors also executed more than 3,000 safe helicopter launch and recoveries. The embarked detachment of two MH-60R helicopters from HSM-77 aboard Cape flew approximately 350 sorties, completing more than 1,140 flight hours conducting a wide variety of missions.
"It was a great experience to serve aboard Cape," said Lt. Brock Magnino, one of the pilots assigned to HSM-77. "Capt. Gabrielson and the rest of the crew were very supportive, and it felt good to help them out as much as we could. We definitely felt like a part of the family."
The crew enjoyed port visits to Pattaya, Thailand; Manama, Bahrain; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Valletta, Malta and Key West, Fla. Cape participated in community service projects in each port, repairing orphanages and homes for victims of domestic violence. En route, Cape passed through both the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal, sailing around the world to return home to San Diego.
"It was a long, but memorable deployment," said Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Harvey Xavier. "Our ship has come a long way and made many accomplishments since 2008. It feels good to serve on a ship that's been around the world. Not many people are able to say they've been where we've been or did what we've done."
Sailors performed cross-deck exchanges with various U.S. Navy ships including Lincoln, the Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10), as well as the British Royal Navy's Type-45 Air Defense Destroyer HMS Daring (D32), the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Lyme Bay (L3007) and the Duke-class frigate HMS Westminster (F237).
Cape received many visitors throughout the deployment, including: Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet, Vice Adm. John Miller; country music superstar, Toby Keith; Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan; as well as "Cooks from the Valley" who supplied and grilled fresh steaks for 12 ships at sea for the Fourth of July.
Cape advanced 60 petty officers and chiefs during the deployment. More than 130 Sailors earned their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) qualification, allowing Cape to fly the ESWS pennant.
"We have to recognize our families, friends and supporters who kept us going," said Gabrielson. "While we were deployed, so were they because they were away from us. We wouldn't have been able to complete the mission without their love and support. The crew shows our appreciation."