After 72 days in Gulf, Connie heads east

November 8, 1999

By JO3 A. R. Pree

The USS John F. Kennedy Battle Group relieved the USS Constellation Battle Group of duties in the Arabian Gulf after 72 days of operating in the region.

During Connie's stay in the Gulf, the battle group received numerous accolades from various prominent individuals such as William Cohen, Secretary of Defense; Adm. Archie Clemens, Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet; Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, Commander, U. S. Central Command; Vice Adm. Charles Moore, Commander, Fifth Fleet; and Vice Adm. Mike Bowman, Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific.

Every battle group ship contributed to the success of the mission in support of Operation Southern Watch (OSW) - from flying combat sorties to conducting Maritime Interception Operations (MIO).

"I wish to extend my sincere appreciation to the Connie Battle Group for the superior performance during operations while deployed to USCENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR)," said Zinni. "Your performance underscored the professionalism, dedication, and combat readiness of the U.S. Navy."

The praise given to the Connie Battle Group comes well deserved. Carrier Air Wing Two pilots have surpassed 8,600 carrier landings, "more than any carrier has done in a while," according to CO, Capt. Jamie Kelly. CVW-2 was also the first air wing remembered by C5F to have no flight violations, "this is due to the best air traffic controllers in the fleet," according to Kelly.

During that time, Connie's embarked aircraft burned about eight million gallons of jet fuel and dropped more than 44 tons of ordnance was expended on various Iraqi air defense sites, which had attacked coalition aircraft.

"The air wing performed spectacularly," said Capt. Tom Trotter, Commander Carrier Air Wing Two. "It was a real challenge to accomplish some missions due to very small targets however, we did manage to put a lot of ordnance on target.

"We also incorporated new ideas," Trotter continued. "We used fast tactical imagery (FTI) for the first time in combat, and it worked pretty well."

FTI is a means for airborne aircraft to receive real time photos of targets.

"The ship receives an image, downloads it, and transmits it to the aircraft," said Trotter.

"We've flown more than most air wings do in that area," he added. "We flew more than 1,250 OSW sorties casualty free."

The ultimate goal of a carrier/air wing team is to safely launch aircraft to deliver the right ordnance to the right target. None of this would be possible without the flight deck crew.

"We had a lot more junior guys than usual," said Flight Deck Chief, ABHC(AW) Brian Nicholson, of Beverly, Mass. "The heat was a factor, but everyone on deck recognizes how important they are toward the overall mission, and they persevered. We were very careful as far as keeping everyone well hydrated and giving breaks. I was very impressed with their outstanding performance."

Battle group ships, under the command of Commodore Richard Arnold, Commander, Destroyer Squadron Seven, conducted numerous, highly-successful MIOs in which 122 merchant ships were boarded to ensure no illegal importing or exporting was taking place.

Every department, squadron, and detachment was tested to some degree.

"The engineers did an outstanding job," Kelly said. "There were no major casualties during the ship's entire stay in the Gulf which prevented it from operating."

Engineers serve a vital role on ship as they make everything happen - propulsion; steam for the catapults and hotel services; air conditioning and refrigeration; and electricity, just to name a few. In addition to providing these services in what are already hot workcenters, the sweltering heat of the Gulf region, and warm waters (high 80s to mid 90s) tasked the engineers to work harder, under blistering heat stress conditions.

"There was a big demand for us to keep everything on line," said MM2(SW) Isaac Wong of Nanakuli, Hawaii. "We did a great job considering the heat factor forced us to adjust stay times in the spaces. Normally, temperatures were around 105 degrees while we were steaming - in the Gulf, they were in the 120 to 130 degree ranges. We went from six and six watchstanding to four and eight."

Connie was not only "just business" out to sea, they got the job done just as well while on liberty in the United Arab Emirates (twice) and Bahrain.

"Everyone's performance on the line was stellar," said Cmdr. Steve Squires, Connie's XO. "The same can be said with everyone's conduct ashore. My expectations were met and exceeded in every way."

"We stood out on liberty," said Command Master Chief, AVCM(AW) Keith Goosby. "We left Fifth Fleet AOR with no major liberty incidents. It can be said we set the tone to relax some of the liberty restrictions for battle groups to follow.

"We were great ambassadors to the host countries. We hosted receptions, gave ship tours, and participated in community relations projects, which are a big help to a lot of places out here. A couple of our guys even saved a trucker's life - what more can you ask for?"

Now that Connie has departed the Gulf, the "Battle of Boredom and Complacency" begins.

"The ship will continue to fly and conduct various drills," said Squires. "We don't want people getting in the state of mind that the cruise is over and take their mind off of being a Sailor at sea. Not being in a hostile area doesn't mean things can't go wrong."

"As you leave the Gulf and head to some well-deserved 'down-under' liberty, I want to pass my personal congrats to all on a simply marvelous deployment," said Bowman. "You set the bar higher than all who have done it before you and surpassed it. Your hallmark cruise will be a tough act to follow."

With all Connie has accomplished over the past four plus months - and all the praise the ship has received for her performance, the battle is not over. There are still three port calls and a Tiger Cruise ahead before pulling back into San Diego. Let's keep raising the bar.