The first-in-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) departs Naval Station Norfolk with sailors lined up around its perimeter. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jackson Adkins

Aircraft Carrier Gerald R. Ford Leaves on 1st Combat Deployment

With tearful goodbyes, U.S. Navy pride, pomp and circumstance, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier deployed from Norfolk on its first international warfighting mission.

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) departed Naval Station Norfolk last week. The Ford is the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier. The first in its class, USS Gerald R. Ford cost a cool $13.3 billion and is the first major aircraft carrier redesign in 40 years.

This 1,100-foot vessel is the first of four Ford-class aircraft carriers being built to replace the Nimitz and Enterprise classes. With more advanced technology, the new class is designed to operate with almost 700 fewer crew members than the Nimitz class. USS Gerald R. Ford is the first aircraft carrier with all electric utilities, eliminating steam service lines from the ship. With all its improvements, the Ford is expected to save more than $4 billion in ownership costs during its predicted 50-year service life.

Expanded Operational Stress Canine Sage deploys. Photo: USS Gerald R. Ford- CVN 78/ Facebook

The flagship deployed for two months back in October 2022 within the United States, but this will be the first full-length combat deployment.

“The Sailors of Gerald R. Ford are ready and able to perform because of the strenuous training they have put in to get this ship ready to deploy, and also in large part to the support of their families and friends,” said Capt. Rick Burgess, Ford’s commanding officer. “This ship and crew are actively reshaping the face of our Navy’s capabilities and strengthening the future of naval aviation.”

For the sailors and their families, it’s a bittersweet departure. Moms, dads, grandparents, spouses and children of those deployed saw them off with prayers for safe travel. For the first time on an aircraft carrier, a therapy dog is deployed with the 6,000 sailors leaving with Carrier Strike Group 12.

Sage, a three-year-old Labrador Retriever, is on the Ford‘s warfighter toughness mental health and resilience team. Trained by Virginia-based nonprofit Mutts with a Mission, she is the first Expanded Operational Stress Canine to deploy on any U.S. Navy ship. She and her handler, the ship’s Chaplain, spent 120 hours training together.

In the aircraft carrier’s first week, its air department has been conducting flight operations in the Atlantic Ocean.

-Meg Walburn Viviano