NORFOLK — A 2006 Bridgeport High School graduate and returned home Aug. 9, marking the end of a seven-month deployment aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Since departing its homeport of Norfolk, Va. in January 2020 for the ship’s Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), the aircraft carrier remained underway and deployed to the Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kayla Haley is a culinary specialist aboard the carrier. As a culinary specialist, Haley is responsible for cooking meals for the more than 5,000 sailors on board.

“My favorite part of the job would have to be that we literally see everyone,” said Haley. “Through this job you make so many friends and connections, which are two key things you need while deployed.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, USS Eisenhower continued to conduct operations underway, minimizing the potential spread of the virus aboard in order to maintain maritime stability and security and ensure access, deter aggression and defend U.S., allied and partner interests.

USS Eisenhower, along with the USS San Jacinto (CG 56), one of the other ships within Carrier Strike Group 10, remained continuously at sea with no port visits, setting a new record for the U.S. Navy, breaking the previous record of 160 days set in 2002 by USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

“I’m so proud of the young men and women I see on the deck plates each and every day,” said Capt. Kyle Higgins, Ike’s commanding officer. “Their dedication to the mission is what makes our Navy the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

Sailors assigned to Eisenhower and San Jacinto transited to the equator and participated in a unique crossing the line ceremony, becoming the Navy’s first ‘Iron Shellbacks,’ with more than 100 days at sea May 14. Ike petitioned Naval History and Heritage Command to commemorate this feat in conjunction with crossing the equator as a new title: ‘Iron Shellback.’

“My proudest personal accomplishment this deployment would be being baptized in the Red Sea by our chaplain, Cmdr. Greer,” said Haley. “My proudest work related accomplishment would be watching my junior sailors excel in their career, because one of my primary duties it to train and motivate sailors to become better versions themselves.”

USS Eisenhower participated in multiple exercises with allies and partners and dual-carrier operations. The ships within CSG-10 also completed multiple strait and choke point transits, to include the Strait of Gibraltar, the Suez Canal and the Bab-el Mandeb Strait, while operating under two Combatant Commanders — U.S. European Command, and U.S. Central Command.

“It is my role to train squadron personnel, help sailors learn their ratings and assist them in obtaining their shipboard qualifications at sea,” said Haley.

Haley said there are sacrifices to be made while serving, but that family is her motivation.

“I joined the Navy for my daughter and now I continue to do it for my three daughters,” added Haley. “Being a sailor requires you to miss birthdays and many holidays but I want my daughters to know I do it all for them.”

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