USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea (NNS) -- Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 began flying its aircraft aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Jan. 20, shortly after the ship left San Diego, Calif., for carrier qualifications off the coast of southern California.
Once the qualifications are finished and all aircraft embarked, the eight squadrons and one squadron detachment of CVW-9 will bring nearly 70 aircraft and 1,700 personnel to the team. After spending a year working to form a seamless integration, Stennis and the air wing will put that training and practice to use in the Global War on Terrorism in the U.S. 5th Fleet's area of operations.
According to Capt. Sterling Gilliam, the CVW-9 commander, "The ship and air wing's performance during COMPTUEX (composite training unit exercise) demonstrated the ability for high sortie rates and to safely operate together, and that was great practice for what lies ahead."
Following the four days of carrier qualifications, Stennis and the air wing will steam west with the other ships in the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (CSG), prepared to conduct maritime security operations, supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and operations on the Horn of Africa.
"Central Command will have tremendous flexibility to exert influence throughout the region upon our arrival," Gilliam said.
For most of the Stennis crew, the deployment is a chance to take advantage of the long hours and months in training spent away from home.
"Every one of us worked long hours, through weekends, [to get the] mission accomplished," Marine Gunnery Sgt. Raymond Deluz with Marine Strike Fighter Squadron (VMFA) 323 said, referring to the year-long training qualification effort. "We've shown time and time again that as long as we communicate well, we will accomplish the mission."
For the air wing, being deployed on an aircraft carrier provides a change of scenery and an opportunity for career development.
"What you get out of it depends upon how you make the deployment worthwhile," said Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Edison Pedro, who extended his tour with the "Top Cats" of Sea Control Squadron 31 for this deployment. "It's a good opportunity to get all of your qualifications."
For related news, visit the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn74/.