NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy said it's ready to do its part in the continuing crisis in Eastern Europe.
The Navy's top civilian leader said he's confident in the thousands of sailors who are deployed in the Mediterranean region. At least 20 ships are currently on station in the 6th Fleet Area of Operations region, as conditions worsen daily in Ukraine.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro visited Naval Station Norfolk Thursday. He is well aware that many of those ships and sailors come from Hampton Roads.
He thanked them for their service, adding, "I'm extremely confident that whatever task they're called upon to do, that they're going to do it safely and we're going to be there to support them along the way."
Del Toro talked about his view that the Navy's fleet of guided missiles cruisers is aging, and, needs to be phased out.
"Just like any other investment that we make, it's time to start retiring some of these cruisers so we can actually build newer ships like our Constellation Class frigates," he said.
Del Toro also weighed in on the $1.5 trillion omnibus budget negotiations in the Senate and the need for Congress to pass a proper, long-term appropriations bill instead of stopgap measures.
"I certainly hope that the Congress will do so by the close of business Friday so that we don't have another continuing resolution that is going to impact our operations," he said.
Additionally, Del Toro spoke about the COVID-19 vaccine, which he said serves as a vital tool for Navy readiness. As of March 9, more than 7,800 active and reserve sailors remained unvaccinated and this week, there is news that an unnamed destroyer cannot be deployed because it is commanded by an officer who refuses to get the shot.
"This is an issue that's entered the courts," he said. "And I have confidence the courts will address it fairly and equitably and will take into consideration national security."
The Secretary was in town to visit the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, which -- five years since commissioning and after numerous technical challenges -- is on track to finally deploy at a date not yet announced later this year.
Del Toro reiterated the Navy's commitment to maintaining 11 to 12 aircraft carriers in its fleet.