USS Independence (CV 62) Battle Group returns to Yokosuka, Japan today after deploying on short notice to the Arabian Gulf and remaining there four months in support of Operation Southern Watch and Desert Thunder.
Operation Southern Watch enforces United Nations sanctions against Iraq and compliance with the no-fly zone below the 32nd parallel. Operation Desert Thunder was the effort to provide military presence and capability during negotiations between the UN and Iraq over weapons of mass destruction.
Ships returning with Independence are USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56). USS Tucson (SSN 770), homeported in Pearl Harbor will continue with her six-month western Pacific deployment.
Vice Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, Commander, Fifth Fleet, in a farewell message to the battle group said, "Your unscheduled deployment to the Gulf during heightened tensions provided the muscle to back up diplomatic efforts in the region, as well as the clear combat capability necessary to respond decisively."
The battle group departed Yokosuka Jan. 23 and arrived on station in the Arabian Gulf Feb. 5. While there, more than 5,500 flights took off from Independence's flight deck to support Operation Southern Watch and sustain normal training requirements.
"We strongly believe the presence of the Independence Battle Group in the Arabian Gulf was instrumental in the success of UN negotiations with Iraq and the agreement Feb. 23 to allow inspectors to resume work in Iraq," Rear Adm. Charles W. Moore, Commander, Carrier Group Five, said. "That was our success."
Adm. Archie Clemins, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, praised the battle group for its accomplishments as they began the ships headed home, "You have proven the importance of our forward-deployed naval forces and their ability to quickly respond to any crisis situation. Your readiness to carry out a full range of contingency operations anywhere, anytime is a matter of national pride."
Independence, Bunker Hill and McCain are forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. Independence and Bunker Hill are scheduled to depart Yokosuka July 7. Bunker Hill will return to San Diego after turning over responsibilities to USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Chancellorsville will replace Bunker Hill as part of rotating forces forward-deployed to Yokosuka.
Independence will turn over with USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) in Pearl Harbor. Independence will then sail to Bremerton, Wash., to prepare for decommissioning on Sept. 30, 1998.