ABOARD USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (NNS) -- A changing of the guard occurred Nov. 20, when the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Carrier Strike Group relieved the USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) Carrier Strike Group on station in the North Persian Gulf Nov. 21.
The two carriers conducted ordnance and crew transfers prior to Kennedy’s departure, and Truman’s commencement of combat operations in the theatre.
Kennedy deployed June 7 with embarked Carrier Air Wing 17, based in Norfolk, Va. Also leaving June 7 were strike group ships USS Vicksburg (CG 69), USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) and USS Spruance (DD 963), each homeported in Mayport, Fla., and USS Seattle (AOE 3) based in Norfolk, Va.
The deployment represented the fruition of the Navy’s Fleet Response Plan, the effectiveness of which the Navy demonstrated via the Summer Pulse ’04 exercise.
Summer Pulse ’04 culminated in the deployment of seven aircraft carriers to five regions across the globe. For its part in the large-scale exercise, JFK, after the successful completion of its Combined Joint Task Force Exercise, steamed to the Persian Gulf as part of its regularly scheduled deployment.
Upon arrival in the Persian Gulf, Kennedy immediately assumed a wartime footing and ramped up its operational tempo to provide much needed support to coalition troops on the ground in Iraq.
Warplanes from CVW-17 began flying sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom July 10. By deployment’s end, they flew 8,296 sorties for a total of 21,824 flight hours. Of those, 4,396 sorties and 11,607 of the flight hours were in direct support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The rigors of keeping a schedule as demanding as the one under which we operated are imposing," said CVW-17 Operations Officer Cmdr. Paul Camardella. "Our young men and women handled it throughout with tenacity and dexterity.”
During the course of operations in Iraq, 54,000 pounds of ordnance were dropped by the jets of CVW-17 squadrons, including F/A-18s Hornets from the Blueblasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, the Rampagers of VFA-83, the Sunliners of VFA-81 and F-14 Tomcats from the Jolly Rogers of Fighter Squadron (VF) 103.
This deployment marked the last for the Tomcats of the Jolly Rogers, as the venerable F-14s phase out of the Navy’s operational inventory. The fighter squadron will become VFA-103 and will acquire replacement F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as the Navy marches on toward modernization.
Supporting the Hornets and Tomcats in their efforts to soften enemy positions, four squadrons featuring versatile airframes worked tirelessly to ensure mission success.
The E-2C Hawkeyes of the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125 Tigertails provided command and control over the skies of Iraq.
The EA-6B Prowlers of the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 132 Scorpions jammed enemy radar and communications.
The SH-60B Seahawks of the Helicopter Ant-Submarine Squadron (HS) 15 Red Lions stood vigilant to assist in any search-and-rescue missions.
The S-3 Vikings of the Sea Control Squadron (VS) 30 Diamond Cutters ensured the warhead-laden jets had enough fuel to reach the beach, complete their missions and come back again. The decommissioning of VS-30, scheduled to begin following their return from deployment, brings closure to the storied squadron, which began operations in the early 1950s.
“Since arriving, the missions we have engaged in have been varied and challenging. Thanks to outstanding dedication and flexibility of every Sailor at every level, we proved up to the task and delivered at every turn,” said Capt. Mark Guadagnini, Commander, Carrier Air Wing 17.
During this deployment, Guadagnini’s air wing celebrated two significant firsts for the aviation community and the Navy.
The Blueblasters of VFA-34 made history when, in late October, they dropped the Navy’s first two 500-pound JDAMs – the newest weapons in the service’s inventory – during combat operations over Iraq. The Navy’s newest JDAM – known as a GBU-38 – provides the warfighter with more flexibility and helps reduce collateral damage. The JDAM guidance kit converts existing unguided bombs into precision-guided "smart" munitions.
Additionally, the first implementation of the Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared Camera Laser Pod, or ATFLIR, in F/A-18C Hornet squadrons, bringing the Kennedy Strike Group to a new level of combat readiness.
While the lethal carrier strike group deployed to support combat operations, it also served in several humanitarian efforts, aided in the protection of key area infrastructures, offered its services as a diplomatic arm in the unsettled region and continued to reach new levels of excellence in all aspects of naval service.
“The amazing people who man these ships and squadrons have demonstrated why we are the finest Navy in the world through the overcoming of obstacles and maintaining grace under fire,” said Kennedy Commanding Officer Capt. Dennis FitzPatrick.
August saw the ships of the Kennedy strike group play protector to two distressed civilian ships. Aug. 8, Seattle rescued the crew of a sinking ship after responding immediately to a distress call, originating from an Indonesia-flagged roll-on, roll-off ship, operating in the North Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy Sailors successfully rescued four crew members by helicopter from the deck and eight more from a life raft in the water.
Shortly after Seattle’s efforts, Kennedy rescued six mariners from an Iranian cargo dhow Aug. 14 after learning that the vessel was taking on water. Kennedy dispatched two H-60 helicopters from HS-15 to the scene. The HS-15 Red Lions air crew rescued all crew members aboard the Iranian-flagged dhow.
During the course of the Kennedy Strike Group’s time in the Persian Gulf, one mission which drew less attention, but was no less vital than the air strikes in Iraq, was the deterrence of incidents of terror in and around the gulf itself. Thanks to active maritime interdiction efforts carried out primarily by Roosevelt, Vicksburg and Spruance, the flow of illegal goods was greatly diminished, and no attacks on crucial area infrastructure were realized.
“International terrorist organizations have tried to attack the oil infrastructure before. The peril is real, and we put our assets in position to detect, deter and disrupt that threat,” said Capt. Anthony Kurta, Commodore, Destroyer Squadron 24.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the ministers of defense from 18 coalition countries, made a stop on Kennedy Oct. 9 and took a whirlwind tour of the ship and participated in a video teleconference with a key military component in Baghdad. Rumsfeld then took time to reenlist 80 sailors, with reenlistment bonuses totaling more than $1.7 million.
The 36-year-old carrier also met its goal of maintaining material condition and maintenance excellence and earned a grade of 93 percent from Commander, Naval Air Force inspectors Oct. 30, after a meticulous review of the aircraft carrier’s maintenance and material management, or 3M, program.
As the carrier strike group departs the Persian Gulf region, the collective efforts of the ships and squadrons characterize the legacy of this deployment.
“The Kennedy Strike Group delivered whenever it was tasked," said Vice Adm. Dave Nichols, commander, U.S. 5th Fleet and commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. "Its men and women are testament to the bravery and skill of the American and coalition forces promoting stability in the Middle East through peacetime security cooperation, deterrence and credible crisis response.”
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