About Double War Duty A First For Enterprise Strike Group
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Double War Duty A First For Enterprise Strike Group info
November 17, 2006
By Jack Dorsey, The Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK — Ending an unusual deployment to four fleets and two wars, the aircraft carrier Enterprise will return Saturday after six and a half months at sea.
Its air wing began arriving Thursday and completes its homecoming today, flying to bases in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and other states.
During the cruise, some of the air wing’s 66 aircraft were based in Iraq and others operated 1,200 miles away aboard the carrier, conducting combat missions into Afghanistan.
“It was definitely a different way of skinning a cat, but it worked for us,” said Rear Adm. Ray Spicer, commander of the Enterprise Strike Group of five ships and more than 7,500 sailors.
Arriving with the Enterprise are the cruiser Leyte Gulf. Two other Norfolk-based ships, the destroyer McFaul and frigate Nicholas, returned Tuesday.
Although sending carrier-based jets ashore had been tried before, this was the first time the Enterprise supported two separate war efforts at once, Spicer said in a telephone interview.
The Enterprise sent three EA-6B Prowler electronic jamming planes and nine F/A-18C Hornets into Iraq from Sept. 4 until the end of October, said Capt. Mark E. Wralstad, the commander of Carrier Air Wing One .
He used S-3 Vikings, an anti-submarine warfare jet, to shuttle pilots and parts back and forth.
Flights into Afghanistan included 14 to 16 missions per day, each taking more than six hours and two to three aerial refuelings.
In Iraq, the air wing dropped four bombs during September and October, compared to 133 bombs unleashed during six weeks of combat in Afghanistan, Spicer said.
The difference was because of the high risk of accidentally hitting Iraqi towns, Wralstad said. In Afghanistan, the fighting was done in more open terrain and against a scattered enemy .
In Iraq, planes supported coalition troops by providing surveillance and electronic jamming.
In Afghanistan, they supported mainly NATO ground forces and struck Taliban targets.
The Enterprise first worked with the 2nd Fleet in the Atlantic Ocean, then the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, the 5th Fleet’s Middle East region encompassing the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, and then joined part of the 7th Fleet in the western Pacific off Korea and Japan.
“I think the crew got to see a lot of things they didn’t expect in eight port visits,” said Capt. Larry Rice, the Enterprise’s commanding officer.
Port visits were to Split, Croatia; Souda Bay, Greece; Pusan, Korea; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Lisbon, Portugal; and Hong Kong .
Despite the long cruise, temperatures in the Persian Gulf that soared to 130 degrees, plus 23,000 flight hours – 12,000 of them in combat – the Enterprise comes home with no deaths among its crew.
“This is my first deployment on a carrier where we haven’t lost somebody,” Rice said.
Among the guests returning on Saturday are 369 relatives of crew members who came aboard in Lisbon to ride the ship home during its last eight days at sea.
They range in age from 8 to 81, Rice said, and include 45 to 50 school-age children.
Spicer’s strike group also included the fast combat support ship Supply, from Naval Weapons Station Earle, N.J. and the fast attack submarine Alexandria, from Groton, Conn.
When the Enterprise left the 5th Fleet in the Arabian Sea for the Japanese and Korean coasts for nearly two months midway in the deployment, the other four ships in the strike group remained with the 5th Fleet, but not with an American commander.
“A lot of coalition partners are running the show,” Spicer said
Increasingly, coalition commanders are assigned to head various task forces and may lead a multinational group of ships.
Command in the central and southern Persian Gulf was turned over to an Italian admiral, while an Australian admiral ran operations in the northern gulf and a Pakistani admiral commanded off the Horn of Africa, Spicer said.