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The first warship to call Naval Station Rota, Spain, home since 1979 pulled into port Feb. 11, the first of the four destroyers to make the move over the next two years.
Sailors from the destroyer Donald Cook are settling in to their new homes while preparing for an upcoming patrol, chief engineering officer Lt. Jeffrey Chewning told Navy Times in a Feb. 12 phone interview.
The Ross, currently based at Norfolk, Va., is scheduled to homeport shift to make the move later this year. The Porter, also Norfolk-based, and the Carney, from Mayport, Fla., will join them next year. As part of 6th Fleet, the ships will support NATO in a variety of missions, from ballistic missile defense to maritime security and joint training exercises.
About 1,300 sailors and 2,100 family members will move to Rota, according to Fleet Forces Command. They'll join the 1,300 sailors, 1,700 family members and 200 U.S. civilian workers already there.
"The arrival of the USS Donald Cook is a key milestone from the military point of view, as it confirms the trans-Atlantic bonds within NATO, and corroborates the Spanish allegiance with the organization, and all those initiatives intended to strengthen its unity and achieve its objectives," said Adm. Jaime Muñoz-Delgado y Diaz del Rio, the Spanish navy's chief of staff, at Cook's arrival ceremony.
'Didn't skip a beat'
Chewning's family greeted him on the pier the day the ship arrived in Rota. He's one of about a dozen sailors, he said, who moved their families to Spain ahead of the ship's move. Ten or 15 are arriving now, he said, and the rest plan to bring their families over after they return from deployment.
Chewning, 31, has assignments at Yokosuka, Japan, and Bahrain under his belt, so he knew the challenges of an overseas move. The 2005 Naval Academy grad said he sought orders to Cook last summer, knowing the ship was headed to Spain.
He flew with his wife, 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter to Rota in December to get them set up. They chose to live off-base in nearby Puerto for the full Spain experience.
"The opportunity to be immersed in the culture in which you're living is, I think, one of the big reasons," he said. "We live one block from the beach, we have a pool in our backyard, there's restaurants one block away. Another block away, there's bars. It's great."
After moving in, the family took a few weeks to experience Europe, spending Christmas in Rome and New Year's in Greece.
Chewning added that the on-base facilities seem prepared to accommodate four new ships and their crews.
"It's like we've been here the whole time. We pulled in and we didn't skip a beat," he said. "We hooked up lines, electricity, water, the brow. It's just like pulling into Norfolk back home, except we're in Spain."
For now, Cook's crew is spending its time preparing for the upcoming deployment, getting their families settled with Spanish driver's licenses and military ID cards, and taking time to experience Europe before the pace picks up.
"Donald Cook is going to have one of the highest op tempos — in fact, all four of these DDGs coming over, we're going to have one of the highest, if not the highest, op tempo of any ship in the Navy, just based on patrol-cycling," he said.
It's a logistical challenge moving overseas, Chewning said, but there are plans in place. He said his command held two "Rota Roadshows" before the move, where Destroyer Squadron 60's commodore, Capt. James Aiken, Rota's housing director, along with Fleet and Family Readiness representatives and others visited twice for a week at a time, so that every sailor and their families had a chance to get their logistical questions answered.
"Talk to your sponsor, check [Naval Station Rota, Spain] Facebook page," he said. "If someone's been stationed in Norfolk for 50, 60, 70 percent of their career, especially with kiddies, that can be challenging, but the resources are here."