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USS Theodore Roosevelt ready for deployment following COVID-19 battle

USS Theodore Roosevelt ready for deployment following COVID-19 battle
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transits the Philippine Sea Monday. Photo by Julian Davis/U.S. Navy

June 3 (UPI) -- The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its planes are ready to return to deployment status after a COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. 7th Fleet announced.

The vessel completed carrier qualifications on Tuesday, which the Navy described as the last milestone in returning the aircraft carrier to sea as a ready naval asset.

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The Roosevelt on Wednesday returned to Guam to pick up the rest of its crew before continuing its deployment, which had been interrupted by the outbreak.

"You can see and feel the excitement around the ship as we have returned to flight operations," Capt. Carlos Sardiello, Theodore Roosevelt's commanding officer, said Tuesday in a press release. "It is very rewarding for all Sailors involved to exercise their skill set and see the TR back in action."

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According to the Navy, the Roosevelt qualified pilots from the "Tomcatters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31, "Golden Warriors" of VFA-87, "Blue Diamonds" of VFA-146, "Black Knights" of VFA-154, "Liberty Bells" of Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 115, "The Gray Wolves" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 142, and the "Providers" of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30.

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"It felt great to get back in the cockpit and launch from the catapult while at sea," Lt. William Leagon, a naval aviator assigned to VAQ 142, said. "As a naval aviator this is what we signed up to do and it's really exciting to get back to business."

The Roosevelt left San Diego for a scheduled Indo-Pacific deployment January 17.

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The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, with a crew of nearly 5,000, returned to sea in late May after two months being moored in Guam to contain an outbreak of COVID-19.

As the ship was docked, about 4,800 crew members were evacuated from the vessel to self-isolate on the island -- or receive treatment -- as other crew members deep-cleaned the ship. About 1,000 were affected by the virus, and one, Aviation Ordnanceman CPO Charles Thacker Jr., died.

While the aircraft carrier was in Guam, its strike force escort ships were redeployed to different Pacific Ocean missions. The guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill was involved in South China Sea operations.

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The outbreak touched off a political firestorm after a letter from its commanding officer, Brett Crozier, pleading for more resources to manage the outbreak, went public.

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Crozier was subsequently fired by then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly, who subsequently resigned his position after calling Crozier "stupid" and "naive" in a profanity-laced tirade to sailors.

The Navy said at the end of April that it would open a deeper investigation into the outbreak.

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