USS KITTY HAWK, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) left Japan for the last time May 28, with hundreds of friends, family members and distinguished visitors watching as the ship left the piers where she has operated from for nearly a decade.
The Navy's oldest active-duty aircraft carrier left for Pearl Harbor. There she will pass on her responsibilities as the only carrier operating permanently outside of the United States to USS George Washington (CVN 73) later this summer.
Thomas Schieffer, the U.S. ambassador to Japan; Hitoshi Kimura, Japan's senior vice-minister of foreign affairs; and Rear Adm. James Kelly, U.S. Naval Forces Japan commander, were among the guests that included local business, civic and military leaders.
Rear Adm. Rick Wren, Kitty Hawk Carrier Strike Group commander, highlighted and praised the ship's accomplishments during her time in Yokosuka.
"As commander of Battle Force 7th Fleet, I want to thank the men and women of USS Kitty Hawk for their contributions to maritime security in this region," Wren said.
Kitty Hawk made 20 deployments in the Western Pacific during that time, taking part in a number of exercises, including: Cobra Gold; Foal Eagle; Malabar; Annual Exercise; Rim of the Pacific; Talisman Saber; and Keen Sword, the largest joint exercise for the Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
Wren also thanked the Japanese for their help and cooperation in hosting Kitty Hawk.
"I also want to extend my deepest appreciation to the citizens of this wonderful nation ... for their support to the [Forward Deployed Naval Forces] carrier," Wren said.
Wren and Capt. Todd Zecchin, Kitty Hawk's commanding officer, then boarded and waved goodbye to the crowd as the ship's crew raised her brow from the quarterdeck and flag on her mast.
More than 1,000 Kitty Hawk Sailors 'manned the rails' as the ship pulled out into Truman Bay while the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's band played "Anchor's Aweigh" from the pier.
As the ship pulled away, she released hundreds of red, white and blue balloons.
Sailors then formed on the flight deck and spelled out 'sayonara,' which means 'goodbye' in Japanese for a commemorative farewell photograph.
About 900 Kitty Hawk Sailors and over 100 members of will return to Japan in the embarked Carrier Strike Group 5 and Destroyer Squadron 15 staff members will return to Japan in August on George Washington, as will the 2,000 Sailors of Carrier Air Wing 5, which operates from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, when not embarked on the carrier.
The remainder of Kitty Hawk's crew will return to the West Coast to decommission the ship in Bremerton, Wash., in early 2009.
The ship's pending decommissioning has stirred some nostalgic feelings from the crew.
"It's going to be emotional for me, because in my opinion, Kitty Hawk still has a lot of years left," said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuel) Geronimo Crisostomo, who served a total of three tours on Kitty Hawk. "It can still do the job out there."
During her 10 years in Japan, Kitty Hawk has proven she can do the job--and make history.
On March 22, 2001, Kitty Hawk became the first aircraft carrier to enter Singapore's Changi Naval Base Pier.
The first F/A-18F Super Hornet landing on board Kitty Hawk's 4.1-acre flight deck took place Feb. 19, 2004.
Kitty Hawk also worked to establish herself as a symbol of goodwill and friendship with the Japanese, making port visits to Otaru and Sasebo. The ship was also the first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to visit Muroran on the northern island of Hokkaido.
The USS Kitty Hawk Carrier Strike Group is on its spring deployment in the Western Pacific Ocean. The strike group is the U.S. Navy's largest and includes the carrier, seven ships of Destroyer Squadron 15, two Aegis weapons system equipped guided-missile cruisers and Carrier Air Wing 5. The ships operate from Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, and the air wing operates from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan. Together, they serve as the 7th Fleet's combatant force.
For more news from Kitty Hawk Carrier Strike Group, visit www.navy.mil/local/cv63.