The crew of the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and embarked 7th Fleet staff hit a 48-year historic landmark by surpassing the ship’s underway record, marking 65 days of continuous underway operations, May 17. Blue Ridge’s previous record of 64 days was set during the Vietnam War when she left port April 5, 1972 and stayed at sea in and around the Gulf of Tonkin until June 2, 1972, when she moored in the Philippines. The 2020 Blue Ridge patrol changed with the outbreak of COVID-19. The ship and crew have spent 65 consecutive days underway, and counting, an unusual length of time for a ship well-known for its frequent port visits.
“This is an amazing accomplishment for the Blue Ridge, especially being the Navy’s oldest operational warship and approaching her 50th year of service,” said Blue Ridge commanding officer, Capt. Craig C. Sicola, from Dallas. “As I told the crew, the record is only a number, but their hard work and resiliency has been truly impressive and that’s what really matters. These times are uniquely challenging for the entire world, but it takes an extremely dedicated crew to maintain this old of a ship at sea for this long.”
While not a normal Blue Ridge patrol, the ship and her crew have remained at sea conducting operations during this challenging pandemic, including supporting 7th Fleet command and control of the fleet and supporting partners and allies across the region, as opposed to a physical visit.
“From the beginning of this pandemic and our extended underway period, our focus has been on how to adapt to this new enemy and maintain our ability to stay in the fight,” said Sicola. “It is that mental focus that has kept our Sailors engaged, even with great personal sacrifice and stress. Blue Ridge and 7th Fleet staff have bonded together to ensure the fleet remains operationally ready.”
To stay operationally ready Blue Ridge’s crew has utilized the extended time at sea to maintain training, operational standards and capability and even hit some major milestones for the crew throughout the patrol.
Blue Ridge’s damage control training team coordinator, Damage Controlman 1st Class Bryan McCullough, from Rancho Cucamonga, California, said his team has taken advantage of the extra time “by making routine drills like fire, flooding and structural damage more advanced which has made the crew’s response times faster.”
“Never knowing what might happen, is what makes these drills so important,” said McCullough. “Keeping the ship afloat is always our number one priority so being able to keep Blue Ridge capable of conducting her mission regardless of what that mission may be, is why we conduct these drills over and over.”
“The crew has been amazing,” said Sicola. “I realize every day how tough it has been, especially for some who have lost loved ones, or who have families that have endured challenging events during this pandemic. Even through all that, their heads are high and they have taken great pride in Blue Ridge’s historic underway during her 50th year of service.”
Blue Ridge is the oldest operational ship in the Navy, and as 7th Fleet command ship, works to foster relationships among allies and partners within the Indo-Pacific region.
As the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed fleet, 7th Fleet has approximately 50-70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft with approximately 20,000 Sailors in the AOR at any given time.