Sailors handle a line on the deck of the destroyer Ross as it departs Naval Station Norfolk, Va., for its new home port of Rota, Spain. (MC1 David P. Coleman / Navy)
ABOARD THE DESTROYER ROSS IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC — The ship and its crew headed east in early June to a new home and a new mission.
The Ross was on its way to Rota, Spain, where it will be permanently based for ballistic-missile defense patrols — a high operational tempo assignment that ensures that no matter what schedule the rest of the fleet is on, the Ross will spend four months at home, followed by four months at sea.
For the sailors who have been here the longest, the transit marks the end of a tough cycle of workups and inspections. Many crew members are breathing sighs of relief, anticipating a more predictable schedule and the adventure of living in sunny southern Spain.
For sailors like Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Andres Dos Santos, the homeport shift has brought a palpable change onboard Ross.
“It’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “For the time that I’ve been here, just in the last few weeks, the change has been astronomical. It’s a 180-degree change from where it was before.”
The ship hasn’t deployed since 2010 and in terms of days underway, it was one of the fleet’s least-seagoing destroyers between 2011 and 2013.
But the crew has carried a heavy load. They have endured a long spell in dry dock and heavy workloads with not enough sailors to share the burden.
Like most ships on the waterfront, the Ross has struggled with manning and still lots of empty racks as it heads to its new homeport.
Take the ship’s servicemen: The ship’s disbursing officer, Ensign Michael Zervas, who oversees the ship’s cash transactions, is supposed to have a division of six ship’s servicemen. Right now, he has two. That’s not unusual onboard.
“Since I got here we’ve been undermanned, so I think we’re all trying to figure out how to run the same ship with less people,” said Sonar Technician 3rd Class Erika Crenshaw, who checked onboard in 2013. “It’s still a lot of work and that bears down on you.”
And the Ross has had its share of hard work. The ship spent two years preparing for its INSURV — the high-stakes, exhaustive check by the Board of Inspection and Survey. It had been delayed twice after officials found the ship unprepared.
Cmdr. Tadd Gorman, the commanding officer, said the Ross has faced a host of problems since it returned from its 2010 deployment, especially after the crew failed two light-off assessments.
That attracted the attention of the surface bosses, and the Ross was scrutinized as it prepared for INSURV, but it passed in early 2014 with flying colors.
The crew spent several months in three duty sections and had long stretches of working seven days a week as the ship readied itself for forward deployment.
“All that back and forth took an emotional toll on the crew,” Gorman said in an interview.
Attitudes are now changing. There is also a lot of anticipation building around the first BMD patrol, with some rumors swirling about how many ports they’ll hit.
Lt. James Hostetler, the operations officer, said the changes would be evident now that the ship was actually doing what it has been training for.
“We’re now out here executing, and executing is easy,” he said. “INSURV? Training and inspections? That’s hard.”