The Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group chopped out of the European theater of operations Dec. 26 and headed home to Norfolk after months of operating in the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean, where the strike jets of Carrier Air Wing 3 flew hundreds of missions against Islamic State group targets in Syria and Iraq. The homecoming is set for Dec. 30 — two days shy of the Navy’s stated goal of bringing the group home in seven months.
US carrier groups regularly relieve each other in theater, often handing off duties within sight of the other in the Arabian Gulf or Arabian Sea. But this time, no carrier is in the Eisenhower’s wake.
The relief ship, the carrier George H. W. Bush, has yet to leave Norfolk, and it’s unlikely to do so before the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, according to a Navy source. The gap could last as long as two months, sources said, between the time the Eisenhower left the combat theater and the Bush arrives.
And that gap comes at a particularly inopportune time. Numerous media reports indicate intelligence organizations and analysts are on the lookout for provocative actions by potential antagonists — in particular Russia, China, North Korea, Iran or ISIS. Terror alerts, according to media reports, are high in many regions, including Europe, the Middle East and North America, due to a confluence of factors — the new year, ISIS’ diminishing power in the face of counterattacks in Iraq and Syria, and a natural tendency to test a new administration.