June 5 (UPI) -- The strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman will return to Norfolk, Va., after several months at sea, the Navy announced on Friday.
"You've done your duty and now it's time to come home," he told sailors on Thursday.
The vessel left Norfolk, its home port, in November for deployment to the Middle East. Several ships in its strike force, which includes the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Lassen, USS Forrest Sherman and USS Farragut, have been at sea longer through multiple extensions of their deployment.
The USS Truman has been deployed for 16 of the last 32 months, in part to protect its crew from acquiring the COVID-19 virus.
In early April, the Truman Carrier Strike Group was kept at sea in the Atlantic Ocean for a "sustainment phase" in which crew members could remain safe from the pandemic but in a high readiness state. Sustainment phases are generally conducted pierside.
Adm. Woody Lewis, commander of the Navy's Second Fleet, said the Navy's situation had improved since April, when the Truman Carrier Strike Group was one of only two ready strike groups.
"It's about time that the Truman can be relieved of the watch, so to speak in Navy terms," Lewis said on Friday.
Last week, the U.S. Northern Command announced the conclusion of an Atlantic Ocean exercise involving four other combatant commands and led by the strike group.
The unprecedented, large-scale exercise involved homeland defense operations and the participation of the U.S. Northern Command, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the U.S. Transportation Command, the U.S. Strategic Command and the U.S. Space Command.
It marked the first time that four U.S. combatant commands had worked together in a military exercise.