The world’s largest naval installation is constantly in motion. Spanning more than 6,200 acres with a combined workforce of nearly 70,000 military and government/civilian employees, Naval Station Norfolk is home to 326 tenant activities. They run the gamut, from training and education to logistics, communications, intelligence, maintenance and much more.
But the overarching mission of Naval Station Norfolk (NAVSTA Norfolk) is to project U.S. naval power. Central to that objective are the 60-plus ships, five submarines, four aircraft carriers (plus USS Ford CVN 78, new construction), 190-plus aircraft and attached warfighters who call Norfolk home. Organized under five major commands – Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic (COMNAVSURFLANT); Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (COMNAVAIRLANT); Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic (COMSUBLANT); Military Sealift Command; and Marine Forces Command (MARFORCOM) – these operational units provide forward presence above, below and on the sea around the globe.
As Naval Station Norfolk celebrates its 100th anniversary, we present a sampling of the Norfolk-based units that are currently at the tip of the spear – a snapshot of those who answer the call to ship out and project Navy power in defense of freedom.
Established in 1975 to consolidate the cruiser-destroyer, amphibious, and service force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic is one of the six United States Naval Type Commands. Headquartered at NAVSTA Norfolk, SURFLANT boasts more than 60 ships and special mission and fleet support units that make up the more than 29 commands of the force.
More than 25,000 personnel man and support SURFLANT cruisers, destroyers and amphibious ships, from the continental U.S. to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean Sea, and the Persian Gulf. In addition, the command’s Naval Beach Group (Amphibious Seabees, a Beachmaster unit, and assault craft Units) provide essential pre and post-landing support to U.S. Navy amphibious forces.
To highlight the Norfolk-based units that operate under the command of Naval Surface Force Atlantic, here are five ships from the destroyer, cruiser, amphibious assault, amphibious transport dock and dock landing ship communities.
USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) – Commissioned in 2010, the Dunham is one of the newest guided missile destroyers in the Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) class. Homeported in Norfolk, her roughly 380 officers and enlisted crew are multimission capable, conducting anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASUW) as part of Destroyer Squadron 28 and Carrier Strike Group 8.
USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) – Commissioned in 1993, the USS Vella Gulf is the penultimate Ticonderoga-class Aegis-guided missile cruiser. Manned by up to 400 Norfolk-based officers and enlisted, CG 72 is a multimission anti-air warfare (AAW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), naval surface fire support (NSFS) and anti-surface warfare (ASUW) surface combatant capable of supporting carrier battle groups, amphibious forces or operating independently and as flagships of surface action groups. USS Vella Gulf is part of Carrier Strike Group 12.
USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) – Homeported at NAVSTA Norfolk, USS Kearsarge is the third ship of the Wasp-class multipurpose amphibious assault ships. Her primary mission is the embarkation, deployment, landing and support of a Marine landing force. Commissioned in 1993, Kearsarge is designed to accommodate Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) for fast troop movement over the beach and a mix of AV-8B Harriers, MV-22 Ospreys and MH-60 Seahawks that provide troop transport, logistics, and close-in air support for the assault force. She is a component of Amphibious Squadron 6.
USS Arlington (LPD 24) – LPD 24 is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship stationed at Naval Station Norfolk. Her mission is to transport and land Marines, their equipment and supplies by embarked LCAC or conventional landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles augmented by CH-53 helicopters and/or vertical takeoff and landing MV-22 Ospreys.
With a crew of approximately 365 and the capacity to embark 700 personnel and 14 expeditionary force vehicles, Arlington supports amphibious assault, special operations or expeditionary warfare missions, and can serve as a secondary aviation platform for amphibious ready groups. Arlington is also an Amphibious Squadron 6 asset.
USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) – LSD 41 is based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. We include her here because she is another component of Amphibious Squadron 6 and works hand-in-hand with the other AS6 amphibious ships, all of which are stationed at NAVSTA Norfolk.
Whidbey Island is the first ship of the Whidbey Island-class of dock landing ship. Commissioned in 1985, LSD 41 and the four sister LSDs in her class were designed specifically to transport and launch LCAC vessels. The ship’s company of 22 officers and more than 390 enlisted work in tandem with a 400-plus detachment of embarked Marines to deploy LCACs in amphibious assault operations.
The class has the largest capacity for these landing craft (four) of any U.S. Navy amphibious platform. It also provides docking and repair services for LCACs and for other conventional landing craft.
As Naval Station Norfolk celebrates a century of service, Hampton Roads submariners are also marking 117 years of heritage dating back to 1900, when John Holland sold the submersible Holland VI to the U.S. Navy, giving birth to the U.S. Submarine Force. Decommissioned in 1905, USS Holland (SS 1) remained in reserve at Norfolk between 1905 and 1910.
Today, Commander, Submarine Forces and Commander Submarine Force Atlantic (SUBLANT) are headquartered at Norfolk. SUBLANT’s 32 submarines and more than 15,000 officer, enlisted, and civilian personnel provide submarine support from three East Coast stations to the Atlantic, Arctic, Eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea.
A combined five Los Angeles-class and Virginia-class submarines from Commander, Submarine Squadron 6 are homeported at NAVSTA Norfolk. COMSUBLANT’s principal responsibility remains the operation, maintenance, training and equipping of submarines in support of fleet and national tasking.
USS Boise (SSN 764) – SSN 764 is a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine based at Norfolk. Operated with roughly 140 crewmembers, she performs a range of missions, from strike and strategic deterrence to anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare, mine warfare and counter-drug operations. Boise is one of 41 active Los Angeles-class submarines, still the backbone of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force.
USS John Warner (SSN 785) – Warner is a nuclear-powered Virginia-class fast attack submarine. Conceived as a less expensive alternative to the Seawolf-class attack submarines designed during the Cold War era, Virginia-class boats are replacing the Los Angeles-class. Based at NAVSTA Norfolk, she’s operated by a crew of 135 officers and enlisted, and performs a similar range of missions as Boise.
Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic is also headquartered aboard Naval Station Norfolk. AIRLANT is the aviation type commander for Atlantic Fleet naval aviation units, responsible for the material readiness, administration, training and inspection of units/squadrons under their command, and for providing operationally ready air squadrons and aircraft carriers to the fleet.
The command has five aircraft carriers assigned to carry out the mission of Commander, Atlantic Fleet and other commanders. These include USS Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS George Washington (CVN 73, currently in long term maintenance), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77, currently deployed). USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is currently preparing for commissioning. All are homeported at NAVSTA Norfolk.
Four carrier air wings are also assigned to AIRLANT, including CVW-1, CVW-3, CVW-7 and CVW-8. Aircraft assigned to the Air Department of Naval Station Norfolk at Chambers Field are among those that make up these air wings. Both fixed-wing and helicopter units operate from Chambers Field, including Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadrons flying the Grumman E-2C/D Hawkeye and a Fleet Logistics Support Squadron flying the Grumman C-2 Greyhound.
Rotary-wing units include Helicopter Sea Combat Squadrons flying the Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawk and Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons operating the Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon.
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) – The USS George H.W. Bush and her 3,000-plus strong ship’s company call Naval Station Norfolk home. As flagship of Carrier Strike Group 2 (CSG-2), CVN-77 is sailing with Carrier Air Wing 8 embarked.
In March and April of 2017, CVW-8 aircraft from Bush struck ISIS targets in Iraq. Among the approximately 1,500 personnel of CVW-8 are aviators based at Chambers Field including members of VAW-124 and VRC-40.
Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124 (VAW-124) – VAW-124 is one of five carrier early warning squadrons aboard Naval Station Norfolk. The “Bear Aces” fly the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, providing all-weather airborne early warning, airborne battle management and command and control functions for the Carrier Strike Group and Joint Force Commander.
The twin-engine Hawkeye is a high-wing turboprop aircraft with a 24-foot diameter radar rotodome attached to the upper fuselage. It operates with a crew of five.
Continually updated, the E-2C performs additional missions, including surface surveillance coordination, air interdiction, offensive and defensive counter air control, close air support coordination, time critical strike coordination, search and rescue airborne coordination and communications relay. An integral component of the Carrier Strike Group air wing, the E-2C uses computerized radar, Identification Friend or Foe and electronic surveillance sensors to provide early warning and threat analysis against potentially hostile air and surface targets.
Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40 (VRC-40) – The “Rawhides” are one of only two fleet logistics support squadrons, which provide rapid airborne logistics capability to the carrier strike force across a full range of sea-based military operations.
VRC-40 is the East Coast logistics support squadron, providing support for ships and bases as far north as Norway, down the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast, throughout the Caribbean, in Central and South America and all over the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern theaters. VRC-30 is their West Coast counterpart.
The Rawhides fly the high-wing, twin engine C-2A Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft, operating both from shore and aircraft carriers with a crew of four. The squadron’s nearly 400 enlisted and 40-plus officers maintain and fly 14 C-2s. VRC-40 doesn’t deploy as a unit, instead fielding five sea-going detachments. Every year, VRC-40 carries more than three million pounds of mail and cargo and makes more than 1,000 arrested landings. A VRC-40 detachment is currently aboard CVN 77.
Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 – HM-15 is one of three units that fly the MH-53 Sea Dragon from Naval Station Norfolk in the Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) role. MH-53s can operate from carriers and other warships and are capable of towing a variety of mine hunting/sweeping countermeasures systems, including the Mk 105 magnetic minesweeping sled, the AQS-14A side-scan sonar and the Mk 103 mechanical minesweeping system. When performing the assault support mission, the MH-53E can be fitted with the GAU-21 .50-cal. machine gun ramp-mounted weapon system.
The “Blackhawks” maintain a worldwide 72-hour AMCM rapid deployment posture, with four aircraft forward-deployed for AMCM and vertical on-load delivery capability in the Arabian Gulf. A crew of three (pilot, copilot, aircrewman) fly the 73-foot-long, 36,000 pound-plus MH-53. A fatigue life extension program has been completed, extending the aircraft service life to 10,000 hours, enabling the Navy to maintain a dedicated AMCM capability through the 2025 timeframe.
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22 (HSC-22) – The “Sea Knights” have been at Chambers Field since their establishment in 2006. One of the smallest aviation units in the Navy, the 37 pilots and 177 sailors of HSC-22 fly the Sikorsky MH-60S in multiple roles, including naval special warfare, amphibious search and rescue, theater security cooperation, strike coordination and reconnaissance, anti-surface warfare, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and utility missions in support of the fleet and national defense.
Sea Knight detachments fly from a range of platforms, including littoral combat ships, amphibious assault ships, and combat logistics ships. The unit is one of eight helicopter sea combat squadrons that operate from Naval Station Norfolk.
U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command is also part of Naval Station Norfolk, located aboard Naval Support Activity Norfolk adjacent to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Allied Command Transformation.
MARFORCOM provides a robust, U.S. Marine Corps presence in Norfolk, Virginia. The Headquarters’ proximity to the Joint Staff J31, Joint and Coalition Warfare Center and the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces (COMUSFF), enables the Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command (COMMARFORCOM) to conduct authoritative day-to-day liaison for both operational and programmatic issues as well as being engaged in joint force provider, joint training, and naval integration.
MARFORCOM’s most notable operational presence at NAVSTA Norfolk is VMM-774.
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 774 – VMM-774 is a Marine Corps Forces Reserve unit that flies the Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey from Chambers Field. Under direct control of Marine Air Group 49 (MAG-49), the “Wild Goose” is a component of the 4th Marine Air Wing (4th MAW). The squadron provides assault support transport of combat troops, supplies, and equipment, day or night, under all weather conditions during expeditionary, joint or combined operations.
VMM-774, formerly HMM-774, transitioned to the MV-22 from the venerable CH-46E Sea Knight in 2016. The Wild Goose was the last Marine Corps squadron to fly the CH-46 and the unit has been continuously stationed aboard NAVTSA Norfolk since being activated in 1969.
MILITARY SEALIFT COMMAND (MSC)
Naval Station Norfolk is also home to Military Sealift Command and 14 MSC ships operated primarily by a large force of civil service mariners (CIVMARS). MSC supports the joint warfighter across the full spectrum of military operations, providing on-time logistics and strategic sealift, as well as specialized missions anywhere in the world, under any condition, 24/7, 365 days a year.
CIVMARS are federal government employees who pursue a civil service, Navy career while assigned aboard U.S. government-owned ships that support the Navy’s warfighters and warfighting platforms around the world. They account for 80 percent of the MSC workforce and play a vital role in the Navy’s ability to operate forward every day.
Norfolk-based MSC platforms include fleet replenishment oilers (T-AO), dry cargo/ammunition ships (T-AK/AKE), a hospital ship (T-AH), cable laying/repair ship (T-ARC), and an expeditionary mobile base (T-ESB).
USNS Leroy Grumman (T-AO 195) – Named for famed test pilot and engineer Leroy Grumman, the founder of the aeronautical giant that became Northrop Grumman, T-AO 195 is a Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler.
The government-owned 41,000-ton Grumman is typical of fleet oilers and provides underway replenishment of fuel, fleet cargo and stores to customer ships at sea. She is operated by a crew of five military and 74-89 CIVMARs.
USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE 5) – USNS Peary is a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo/ammunition ship based at NAVSTA Norfolk. T-AKE 5 handles a range of tasks for customer ships at sea, delivering ammunition, food, repair parts, stores and small quantities of fuel. Displacing 41,000 tons, Peary is operated by a crew of 129 CIVMARs.
Two of her sister-ships – USNS McLean (T-AKE 12) and USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13) are also homeported at Norfolk.
USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) – USNS Comfort is a Mercy-class hospital ship. Displacing almost 70,000 tons, she and her twin sister Mercy are the world’s largest hospital ships, and names familiar to people worldwide.
Comfort is operated by a crew of 71 CIVMARs and up to 1,200 military personnel. She provides rapid, flexible afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facilities when called upon to support Marine Corps Air/Ground Task Forces deployed ashore, Army and Air Force units deployed ashore, and naval amphibious task forces and battle forces afloat. Her secondary mission is to provide hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.
USNS Zeus (T-ARC 7) – USNS Zeus is the only cable ship specifically built for the USN. Capable of laying 1,000 miles of cable at depths of up to 9,000 feet, Zeus transports, deploys, retrieves and repairs submarine cables. She also tests underwater sound devices, with a secondary mission of conducting acoustic, hydrographic, and bathymetric surveys. Displacing 15,174 tons, she is operated by a crew of 58 CIVMARs.
USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) – USNS Puller is the Navy’s first expeditionary mobile base – one of two ESB variants of the USN’s planned fleet of expeditionary transfer dock vessels.
Operated by a hybrid Navy/CIVMAR crew, she serves as an afloat forward staging base-variant of the mobile landing platform designed to provide dedicated support for air mine countermeasures and special warfare missions. The ship is capable of executing additional missions, including counter-piracy, maritime security, and humanitarian and disaster relief. The platform supports a variety of rotary-wing aircraft.
Able to embark up to four MH-53 helicopters, Puller has already done extensive training with HM-15 and is considered the “future of Expeditionary Mine Hunting.”
USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) – Another of the MSC ships that interacts with NAVSTA Norfolk-based platforms and personnel is USNS Spearhead, the lead ship of the Spearhead-class of expeditionary fast transport ships. Launched into service in 2012, she is one of three of the new 338-foot aluminum twin-hull catamaran ships based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.
Manned by a crew of 22 CIVMARs often augmented by Navy personnel, Spearhead and the other ships in-class provide intra theater personnel and cargo lift, bridging the gap between low-speed sealift and high-speed airlift. EPFs transport personnel, equipment and supplies over operational distances with access to littoral offload points including austere, minor and degraded ports in support of the Global War on Terrorism/theater security cooperation program, intra-theater operational/littoral maneuver and sustainment and seabasing.
USNS Apache (T-ATF 172) – No Norfolk-based surface ship or submarine ever wants to have to call on the services of USNS Apache. Stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, the 2,260-ton Apache is a Powhatan-class fleet ocean tug.
Operated by a mixed crew of four Navy personnel (divers) and 18 CIVMARs, T-ATF 172 provides towing, diving and standby submarine rescue services, and salvage operations for the Navy’s numbered fleet commanders.
In service since 1981, Apache has towed vessels ranging from the USS Iowa (BB 61) to the decommissioned destroyer USS Barry (DD 933). In 2015, she located the missing cargo ship SS El Faro, which was lost with all hands during Hurricane Joaquin east of the Bahamas. Apache deployed CURV 21, a deep ocean remotely operated vehicle, to survey and confirm the identity of the wreckage in 15,000 feet of water.