As Rep. Elaine Luria sees it, this week's decision to extend the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln speaks to a more serious problem with the aircraft carrier fleet, and the evidence is front and center in Hampton Roads.
The Lincoln will remain deployed for an unspecified time because repairs are taking longer than expected on the USS Harry S. Truman, the carrier assigned to replace it.
But at the moment, not one of the Navy's six East Coast carriers — either at Naval Station Norfolk or Newport News Shipbuilding — are close to combat-ready, Luria said in a House Armed Services hearing this week.
So when a single carrier is sidelined longer than expected, it can become a problem.
In an exchange with Navy leaders, the Virginia Beach Democrat said: "So the taxpayers have made a good investment to have six carriers on the East Coast, plus I understand one on the West Coast — seven of our 11 carriers — in a non-deployable status, and we're having to extend the Lincoln on deployment because of one emergent casualty on one carrier? That's where you desire to be?"
Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited the USS Gerald R. Ford during a visit to Newport News Shipbuilding and Naval Station Norfolk, where he addressed the problem of military suicide. (DVIDS/Seaman Zachary Melvin)
The military has the "means and resources" to stem the tide of suicide in its ranks, but continues to struggle in search of answers, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday during a visit to Naval Station Norfolk.
Three sailors assigned to the Norfolk-based USS George H.W. Bush died of apparent suicide within days of each other in the past two weeks. The Navy said the suicides were not related, but it marked the third, fourth, and fifth crew member suicides in the past two years, said Capt. Sean Bailey, the ship's commander, who described himself as heartbroken.
Esper said he shares in the sailors' grief.
"You mourn for the families and for their shipmates," Esper said. "I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent future further suicides in the armed services. We don't."
Thousands of sailors assigned to the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group will return to Naval Station Norfolk this week just three months after deploying – part of a defense strategy intended to infuse more unpredictability into how the military operates.