By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jesse Hawthorne, Navy Office of Community Outreach
NORFOLK, Va.- A 2003 St. Mary’s Ryken High School graduate and Lexington Park, Maryland, native returned home Aug. 9th, marking the end of a seven-month deployment aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Since departing its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia 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 the Atlantic Ocean.
Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Gabrelcik is an air traffic controller aboard the carrier. As an air traffic controller, Gabrelcik is responsible for the safe and expeditious flow of aircraft departing and arriving the ship.
“Air traffic control is a team effort and it’s very important for us to support one another while performing this challenging job,” said Gabrelcik. “My team and I are a family and I’m fortunate to work with such an amazing group of men and women.”
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 (CSG) 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 accomplishment on deployment thus far is becoming fully qualified as an air traffic control watch officer and air traffic control supervisor,” said Gabrelcik. “Another great accomplishment is becoming an iron shell-back, which is crossing the equator while being out to sea for 100 days or more with no ports.”
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 (EUCOM), and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
“I support the ship’s mission by making sure all aircraft departing the ship are able to conduct their mission with great success,” said Gabrelcik. “When they are done conducting their mission, the focus is now shifted to making sure all aircraft land safely so they can continue to support the ship’s mission.”
Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for Gabrelcik, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. Gabrelcik is honored to carry on the family tradition.
“My grandfather was in the Navy during World War II and he was stationed in Dunkeswell, England,” said Gabrelcik. “He flew B-24’s during the war and later became a test pilot at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.”
As a member of the U.S. Navy, Gabrelcik, as well as other sailors, know they are a part of a service tradition providing unforgettable experiences through leadership development, world affairs and humanitarian assistance. Their efforts will have a lasting effect around the globe and for generations of sailors who will follow.
“I adore my wife and children,” added Gabrelcik. “I am doing this for them and the others who have gone before me to help serve and defend our great country.”