After frenetic Red Sea cruise, the salty sailors of USS Mason are home

The Navy destroyer Mason returned home to Naval Station Mayport, Florida, on Monday after more than eight months of deployment, in which it “faced unprecedented attacks” from Iran-backed-Houthi rebels, the sea service said.

Deployed as part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, Mason was one of the warships at the forefront of countering Houthi drones and missiles during its cruise in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

All told, Mason was deployed for 263 days in those waters and in the Mediterranean Sea.

“I am extremely proud of this battle tested and battle proven crew who achieved unparalleled accomplishments while deployed,” Mason’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Justin B. Smith, said in a statement. “No matter the threat or challenge, they demonstrated an innate ability to sustain a high level of readiness for eight months by thinking on their feet and quickly reacting. As result of their abilities, they protected Mason’s crew and exceeded all mission tasking throughout deployment.”

Mason not only shot down air attack drones and anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi territory in Yemen that targeted both Navy and merchant ships, but also escorted and rescued 26 merchant vessels as they transited the narrow Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea.

In one such instance, on Nov. 26, Mason captured pirates who had seized the M/V Central Park, boarding the vessel and freeing crew members who were stuck in the ship’s citadel.

The rest of Ike’s strike group, including the carrier, the cruiser Philippine Sea and the remaining warships of Destroyer Squadron 22, are now headed home as well, and were operating in the Mediterranean this week, according to the Navy.

The current battle in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden between the Houthis and the Navy’s surface fleet is the most sustained and kinetic action the sea service has seen since World War II.

It’s also the first time that anti-ship ballistic missiles have ever been used in combat, according to Navy brass.

While Ike’s air wing has pounded Houthi sites in Yemen and intercepted ordnance, warships like the Mason have often had mere seconds to identify and take out such attacks.

“U.S. and coalition vessels also are being targeted,” Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, commander of Ike’s Carrier Strike Group 2, wrote this month in the U.S. Naval Institute’s “Proceedings” magazine. “We have to be right 100 percent of the time, but the Houthis have to be right only once.”

Mason and its strike group comrades steamed more than 65,000 nautical miles during this tour, launching more than 100 Standard and Tomahawk missiles, according to Miguez.

The strike group’s air wing has fired more than 80 air-to-air missiles and released more than 350 air-to-surface weapons, he wrote.

“This is all against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who are menacing civilian merchant shipping, including using anti-ship ballistic missiles against these noncombatants,” Miguez wrote.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at [email protected].

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