Life in the Navy during COVID-19

Many things happened during my time in the Navy but nothing larger than the COVID-19 outbreak in the weeks before my deployment to the Middle East. In the weeks following the news of COVID, the Navy was very slow in their response, thinking as many others did that it would come and go like the flu. 

There were ships in our strike group who had left a few weeks earlier. These ships were fortunate enough to see some ports in the Middle East like Dubai. However, this led to multiple outbreaks among these ships. In response to this, the Navy called all naval vessels from ports and requested that all vessels stay out of foreign ports to reduce the number of infected sailors. However, 17 U.S. Navy sailors still ended up dying from COVID-19, according to an article from U.S. Navy News in 2021. 

In my case, our captain got the news and told all Vella Gulf sailors to prepare for a long, treacherous deployment and relayed the news that we were to stay out of foreign ports until further notice. 

This changed everyday life on the Vella Gulf. After the captain announced the news, morale among all sailors dropped substantially, tensions rose, and it seemed as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel. 

For six months as an engineer, my life every day was as follows: 

Wake up at 6 a.m. and stand for six hours of ship roving watch. Then lunch and back to work for four to six hours depending on the day. 

The USS Vella Gulf in 2010. Photo Courtesy the U.S. Navy.

Following this was dinner then six more hours of watch. This would leave you four to six hours of free time. With this time you could shower, sleep, work out, or do whatever you wanted for this period. Of course, there were times when equipment broke and this time would be taken. 

This routine continued for almost six and a half months. 

During the midnight hours, there were video games, chess, and checkers, and the gym was active all hours of the day. I would go to the gym, shower, and go to sleep most of the time. 

During these hours I met many great people. Most of these friendships did not last when I left the Navy, but I met three of my closest friends that I’m still in contact with today.  

In the Navy, sailors are given one day a week off — this is referred to as Holiday Routine. On this day the crew eats a brunch, sleeps in, and gets their mind ready for the long week ahead. On Saturday nights prior to Holiday Routine, we may have karaoke or ice cream socials, and some Saturdays we would have beer calls or steel beaches and sometimes even swim calls. This is one of my highlights of the deployment as I got to swim in the Indian Ocean and cross the equator.

The captain and officers understood the morale was low for these six and a half months and made multiple efforts to improve morale, but nothing raised morale more than when the captain announced that the Vella Gulf crew would be heading home.

The Vella Gulf (CG 72) cruiser in 2008. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy.

The ride home was rough as we hit the outskirts of a hurricane on the return home. This day was one of the roughest deployments the ship at certain points was hitting 20-degree lists which was nearly capsizing after eight hours we were through the worst and headed home. 

This deployment taught me to appreciate everything I have and that even things like sleep and food can not be taken for granted. Enjoy the little things in life like a pretty sunset or an ice-cold beer and remember things can always be worse. 

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