YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier returned to its forward-operating port at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, July 26, to conclude the first half of its 2012 patrol.
USS George Washington (CVN 73) and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, traveled more than 10,800 nautical miles; conducted exercises and operations with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and Republic of Korea (ROK) navy; and visited Busan, Republic of Korea (ROK), and Hong Kong, since they departed Yokosuka two months earlier.
"The real story today is not about the awesomeness or immenseness of this great warship; it's more importantly about the men and women who own, maintain and operate the equipment day in and day out," said Capt. David A. Lausman, George Washington's commanding officer. "The Sailors are the true secret weapon and heartbeat of this aircraft carrier. They are the reason for George Washington's sustained success and ability to quickly answer our country's call 365 days a year. The crew continues to impeccably represent the ideals and strength of our country's forward deployed naval force to every country they visit."
George Washington successfully conducted a trilateral (TRILAT) exercise with the JMSDF and ROK navy in the East China Sea, June 21-22, which marked the first exercise involving all three countries and a carrier strike group. This TRILAT was followed by operations with the ROK navy in the waters west of the Korean peninsula, June 23-25.
The TRILAT and ROK navy operations reinforced regional security and stability and increased interoperability, operational proficiency and readiness. The exercise and operations included integrated helicopter operations; visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exchanges and demonstrations; communication links; dynamic ship maneuvers; and liaison officer exchanges.
"We have and will continue to demonstrate our commitment to our long-standing allies in the Western Pacific," said Lausman. "The U.S. Navy is dedicated to helping enhance the security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and our forward presence activities and engagements in this region strengthen our alliances and partnerships."
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and its crew also commemorated the ship's 20th anniversary, July 2. The crew celebrated this momentous event with a steel beach picnic on the flight deck, and a talent show and cake-cutting ceremony in the hangar bay.
George Washington was commissioned July 4, 1992 and became a full-fledged U.S. warship capable after six years of construction, 40 million man-hours and $3.5 billion.
"This was a great way for our Sailors to get away for a little bit and mingle with the crew," said Command Master Chief Shaun Brahmsteadt, at George Washington's 20th anniversary ceremony. "Twenty years is a long time for a vessel. It's a huge milestone and a great birthday to make for the crew; we're looking forward to 25."
George Washington hosted receptions for more than 90 ROK and Hong Kong military and civilian dignitaries, conducted 23 ship tours for more than 2,000 guests, and participated in 25 community service (COMSERV) projects and 23 Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) tours.
"These [COMSERV] projects help give our Sailors a sense of unity and compassion for the people they serve. They go out and help people who are in need and it gives them a sense of responsibility," said Lt. Cmdr. Young Song, principal assistant of George Washington's Command Religious Ministries Department.
"As for the people who are receiving this assistance, they realize that we are here for their well-being because they do not expect help from military members. It is a conduit to build a great nation-to-nation relationship, and it is extremely important for us to create a strong image while representing U.S. forces abroad," Song added.
George Washington also hosted 25 midshipmen from 14 Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) units throughout the U.S. as part of the summer cruise program. Midshipmen participate in these annual summer training cruises to enhance their professional development.
The midshipmen observed or participated in various shipboard evolutions, including general quarters drills, Captain's Mast, rigid-hull inflatable boat operations, replenishment-at-sea evolutions, weapons familiarization and qualifications, and bridge watches.
"The assignment of these midshipmen to operational fleet units provides them with valuable motivational and instructional experiences not attainable in their normal classroom environment," said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Callan, George Washington's training officer.
Other highlights from the first half of George Washington's 2012 patrol, include: first aircraft carrier to deploy with a full EA-18 Growler squadron; completed its 150,000th arresting recovery, June 16; and, hosted four Australian maritime warfare officers.
During its mid-patrol break, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier will conduct a Board of Inspection and Survey from August 5-10 to ensure that it is properly equipped for prompt, reliable, sustained mission readiness at sea. George Washington will also conduct a change of command ceremony August 11, where Capt. Gregory Fenton will relieve Lausman as commanding officer.
George Washington and CVW 5 provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region.
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