The Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman -- now in the Arabian Gulf after departing Hampton Roads last month -- is launching airstrikes against Islamic State terrorists, the Navy said.
Truman and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 7 began the attacks Tuesday over Iraq and Syria, the Navy said in a statement.
The carrier and its crew of about 5,000 sailors left Naval Station Norfolk on Nov. 16 to fill a two-month U.S. carrier absence in the Middle East.
But the U.S. isn't there alone. The Truman joined the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle for combined combat operations in Iraq and Syria, the Navy said.
"We complement each other in that, while one carrier is able to fly sorties in country to support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve), the other carrier can conduct maintenance and prepare for the next day," air wing commander Capt. Fredrick Luchtman said in the statement. "The carriers can then swap, which allows us to put more sorties in country while we partner in this operation."
France has been an active member of the U.S.-led coalition force since the terror group took credit for the attacks in its capital city Nov. 16. But this is the first nation other than the U.S. to enlist a carrier for the fight, according to a Navy spokesman. Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said the French carrier arrived only about a week before Truman.
The carrier and its strike group arrived in the region earlier this month to start an expected seven-month deployment. The strike group includes guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio and guided-missile destroyers USS Bulkeley, USS Gravely and USS Gonzalez.
The Truman wasn't originally set to deploy until next year, but the Navy had it switch deployments with another Norfolk-based carrier, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike required an additional 10 months in the shipyard, preventing it from deploying on time to relieve USS Theodore Roosevelt when it left the gulf in October.
The two-month gap without a carrier in the Middle East was the U.S.'s first in nearly a decade.
U.S. Naval Institute News listed the carrier gap as its top military and maritime story of the year after polling its writers, naval analysts and service members. According to their analysis, there could be more gaps in the future as the Navy tries to maintain its fleet and "provide more predictable deployment schedules for the sailors."