NAVY WIRE SERVICE (NWS) - December 20, 1999 - NWS20dec-6. Constellation battle group returns home for the holidays after six-month deployment by USS Constellation Public Affairs SAN DIEGO (NWS) -- After a six-month overseas deployment, more than 7,000 Sailors and Marines from the Constellation Battle Group received an early Christmas present when they returned to their homeports on Dec. 17. The aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV 64) arrived in San Diego to the cheers of thousands of family and friends waiting on the pier. Commanded by Scotia, N.Y., native, Capt. Jamie Kelly, the 38-year old Constellation completed its 19th overseas deployment. In addition to Constellation's 3,000 Sailors, San Diego also welcomed back several air squadrons including: Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 323 (VMFA 323); Sea Control Squadron (VS) 38; Helicopter Antisubmarine Warfare Squadron 2 (HS 2); and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 Detachment 3. Sailors aboard the San Diego-based destroyers USS Benfold (DDG 65) and USS Kinkaid (DD 965) returned to their loved ones earlier that morning. Similar scenes were played out in several cities across the Western U.S. as the 10-ship battle group returned after departing from their homeports and bases last June on the Navy's last deployment of the century. "The performance of USS Constellation, Carrier Air Wing 2 and our battle group ships and submarines during the last six months was nothing short of extraordinary," said Rear Adm. David Hart, Constellation Battle Group commander. "Our Sailors and Marines deserve all the credit for setting a new standard of excellence during a very successful deployment." During its 10-week patrol in the Arabian Gulf region, the Connie Battle Group flew more than 5,000 casualty-free sorties, including nearly 1,300 in support of Operation Southern Watch. These flights included nine separate combat strikes and more than 43 tons of ordnance expended on various Iraqi air defense sites in response to Iraqi aggression against coalition aircraft. Battle group escort ships, under the command of Commodore Richard Arnold, commander, Destroyer Squadron 7, boarded and searched 140 merchant ships to ensure no illegal importing or exporting was taking place under United Nations sanctions against Iraq. In addition to visiting Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Australia, ships of the Constellation Battle Group hosted approximately 100,000 visitors during these liberty calls. Sailors and Marines also participated in dozens of community relations projects which included various activities such as spending time with children at orphanages to refurbishing buildings at senior citizens homes. -USN-