USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (NNS) -- After traveling more than 51,000 nautical miles and spending six months at sea, USS George Washington (CVN 73) (GW) completed its sixth Mediterranean and Persian Gulf deployment and returned home to Norfolk, Va., July 26.
The deployment began Jan. 20, with GW's crew and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 Sailors knowing that their ultimate destination was to provide air support for ground troops fighting Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom. They had no idea, however, that they would become such an integral player in bringing sovereignty to Iraq.
Following a port call in Souda Bay, Crete, GW transited the Suez Canal Feb. 17, and entered the Persian Gulf March 1. After five weeks in the Persian Gulf, George Washington Strike Group Commander, Rear Adm. Denby Starling, expressed his satisfaction and praised the work of GW and CVW-7 as they engaged in Operation Vigilant Resolve, a response to an insurgent uprising in the city of Fallujah.
"This is the best ship and air wing team in the fleet, and I've known it for a long time," Starling said April 9. "These Sailors never cease to amaze me and never disappoint me. We are a tremendous amount of the air power that is available here in the theatre, and whether we're flying reconnaissance missions, engaging in electronic warfare or dropping ordnance, we have succeeded at every turn."
Putting Starling's praise to numbers, GW and CVW-7 combined for a 100 percent launch and recovery rate during 7,592 sorties for the deployment. Of those sorties, more than 1,500 were flown in direct support of OIF, expending approximately 82 tons of ordnance. Maintenance in keeping CVW-7 in the air was also top-notch, with Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department repairing 11,461 separate weapon systems components.
The ship and air wing spent more than four months on station in the Gulf, and made three port visits to Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. GW was originally scheduled to leave the Persian Gulf in late May, but with the turnover of Iraq's government just a month away and insurgent terrorist attacks still a daily occurrence, the ship was extended in the theatre. All hands responded with the determination and ability to adapt that Commanding Officer, Capt. Martin Erdossy, has come to admire and expect from Sailors in his command.
"The uncertainty we've had is the hard thing. If you know you have a hard task ahead and someone tells you how long it's going to take to get it done and how rough it's going to be, I've never seen a Sailor run from that," Erdossy said.
"I am extremely proud of these Sailors. They have made their mark in history," Erdossy said. "Not only have they brought the war to the terrorists, but also they have brought freedom and stability to a part of the world that has never known it. They can now go home to their families with a feeling of pride that few people will ever know."
Sailors also made great personal strides in their professional careers. Nearly 2,600 ship and air wing Sailors earned their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) and Enlisted Air Warfare Specialist (EAWS) qualifications. Three hundred fifty-eight Sailors reenlisted this fiscal year, bagging more than $2.3 million in tax-free selective reenlistment bonus money. In addition, 1,025 Sailors completed Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE) courses, earning 3,075 college credits.
All of these impressive numbers make GW Command Master Chief (SW/AW/SCW) Scott Benning beam with pride and satisfaction, at how his junior and senior troops combined to bring out the best in each other.
"It is a testament to the desire of these Sailors to learn as much as they can about their rating and about their ship," he said. "I'm very proud of the chief's mess and the wardroom for stepping up their leadership roles because it has trickled down. Look around this ship at the leadership at all levels. Our First Class Association has been there every step of the way guiding Sailors in the right direction."
Sailors also did a wonderful job of keeping up with their family relationships. Through the combined efforts of Command Religious Ministries and Combat Systems Departments, Sailors conducted more than 1,000 videotaped readings in the United Through Reading Program, and conducted more than 600 video teleconference calls, where they were able to have a live one-on-one conversation with their loved ones back on the beach. As always, e-mail and Sailor phones were widely used to keep in touch, with nearly 6 million e-mails going out and 4 million coming in.
"A Sailor's greatest strength is drawn from the support he or she gets back home," Erdossy said. "When times get tough, they put our job in perspective and remind us why we are out here. Our job would not be possible without the people back home, and they deserve just as much praise and appreciation from us as we do from them."
The George Washington Strike Group found itself at the tip of the spear in the Navy's largest deployment evolution June 2 when, in a broad display of dominant sea power, the U.S. Navy simultaneously deployed seven aircraft carriers strike groups to five different theatres around the world in "Summer Pulse '04." This was the first operational implementation of the Fleet Response Plan, which seeks to not only maximize training, manning and combat readiness, but also prove to coalition allies and enemy forces that the U.S. Navy can provide a powerful and credible presence anywhere at anytime, which GW has personified since departing Norfolk.
The GW transited north through the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea July 11. After a Mediterranean port call in Naples, Italy, GW turned west toward its homeport and a well-earned hero's welcome.
In addition to the great air support provided by GW and CVW-7, the strike group ships USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) and HMCS Toronto (FFH 333) initiated or were involved in more than 200 boardings of merchant vessels during maritime interdiction operations and logged over 12,000 surface contacts in the Persian Gulf.
"It is important work not only for the Navy and our nation, but for the world," said Erdossy. "That is what has kept the crew pumped up for going on six months now. The morale on this ship has never been better, and it's because people are proud of their accomplishments out here. I made my promise to every Sailor on board when we left that I would not keep them away from home any longer than absolutely necessary. This crew has performed as well as any I've been associated with in my career, and they and their families deserve some quality time together."
For more information about Summer Pulse '04, visit the CFFC Web site at www.cffc.navy.mil/summerpulse04.htm or visit the Summer Pulse '04 Navy NewsStand site at www.news.navy.mil/local/pulse04.
For related news, visit the USS George Washington (CVN 73) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn73.