NORFOLK -- USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) returned to Naval Station Norfolk March 28, after a nine-month deployment to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. Churchill travelled more than 56,000 nautical miles under the leadership of Cmdr. Chris Stone, commanding officer, while safely conducting 41 underway replenishments, 35 weapons exercises and more than 1,000 hours of flight operations.
The ship made port visits to Albania, Jordan, Montenegro, Portugal, and United Arab Emirates where the crew participated in several community relations projects.
"I couldn't be more proud of this crew; the successes they have achieved over the past nine months are truly remarkable," said Stone. "They met every challenge head on, adapting and overcoming time and again to set the standard for excellence. USS Winston S. Churchill made headlines around the world Aug. 20, 2012, when tragedy struck off the coast of Oman. The ship responded to an emergency at sea aboard the civilian Motor Vessel Belde; one crew member had been killed and another required advanced medical care. The rescue, executed under adverse environmental conditions, led to a helicopter litter recovery from the vessel's bridge wing and expeditious evacuation to a hospital, ultimately saving the mariner's life.
Churchill made history by participating in the first U.S Central Command joint counter-piracy exercise between the United States and the People's Liberation Army (Navy) of China. Three crew members served as translators throughout the exercise ensuring smooth communications.
After her first deployment, Ship's Serviceman 3rd Class (SW) Qing Su, said she feels she came back a better Sailor.
"It was a long time (at sea)," said Su. "We can't control how long we have to stay at sea or everything that happens out here, but we can make the best of it." Su earned a promotion to 3rd class petty officer via the Command Advancement Program (CAP) and became one of 65 Churchill Sailors to earn their Enlisted Surface Warfare Qualification (ESWS) during this deployment.
In addition to the exercise with China, Churchill participated in joint naval exercises and operations with Montenegro, Albania, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Australia, Britain, Spain, and Jordan, highlighting the importance of working with coalitions to preserve the Sea Lines of Communication. "Our interaction with foreign navies, whether in a friendly game of soccer or exercises at sea, allows us to build international cooperation with other seagoing nations," added Stone. "It makes for a stronger presence against common maritime challenges, to include piracy, and ensures the sea lanes remain open around the world." Churchill deployed June 20, 2012, with two SH-60B helicopters from the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 72, Det. 8, in support of counter-piracy and maritime security missions in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and Arabian Gulf.
The ship initially deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. When USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) returned to Norfolk, Va., Churchill, USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), and USS Farragut (DDG 99) remained on station in the Arabian Gulf. At that point, Churchill attached to the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group for the duration of their Fifth Fleet operations.
In March, the Churchill was the recipient of Destroyer Squadron 28 Battle Efficiency Award. This marks their third consecutive Battle "E." This honor is awarded annually to ships and crews that exhibit the maximum condition of departmental readiness in their group, and their capability to perform their wartime tasks. Battle "E" awardees demonstrated sustained superior performance in the following six excellence categories: Maritime Warfare; Engineering and Survivability; Command, Control, Communications, and Information Warfare; Logistics Management; Commander Naval Surface Force Safety Award and the Efficiency Excellence Award.
"Our crew did an outstanding, phenomenal job on deployment," said USS Winston S. Churchill Command Master Chief Myla Presco. "The ship is coming back to Norfolk better than it left, and every Sailor can come home with a feeling of accomplishment." Sailors anxiously endured the hours as homecoming drew near. Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 3rd Class Charles O. Bates waited to meet his son for the first time.
"I get to finally hold my baby," said Bates, a first-time father. "I am really excited and nervous." Churchill is the only U.S. Navy ship to have a Royal Navy officer assigned permanently to the ship's company, a symbol of the partnership between the British and American navies. It is also the only U.S. Naval vessel to fly a foreign ensign - the Royal Navy's White Ensign is flown as well as the Stars and Stripes. Churchill is the fifth U.S. warship to be named in honor of an Englishman. "(The deployment) was a very good introduction to the United States Navy," said Churchill Navigator, Royal Navy Lt. Matthew F. Millyard, who joined the ship mid-deployment in December. "I'm looking forward to serving with it on U.S. soil." The ship, whose motto is "In War: Resolution, In Peace: Goodwill," was commissioned in 2001 as the 81st Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. She carries a complement of 259 Sailors and 39 officers.
"It's an honor to command these exceptional men and women. This is truly a special ship and a special crew," said Stone.