USS Stennis most prepared aircraft carrier for Mideast deployment, commander says
Sailors set up the barricade during flight deck drills on the USS John C. Stennis as the carrier conducted sustainment exercises designed to maintain mission readiness.
The Kitsap (Bremerton, Wash.) Sun
USS John C. Stennis leaders knew when the aircraft carrier returned in March from the Middle East it might be going back soon, the strike group and ship commanders said in a conference call Wednesday.
"We were told when we got back we have the duty, and if we have the duty, we have to be ready to go to work," said Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette, Strike Group Three commander. "The reason our preparation has gone so smoothly is the Navy was up front with us when we got back."
The Stennis is wrapping up a month of training off the coast of California, where it conducted fleet replacement carrier qualifications and exercises with its strike group. It's expected back within the next week.
If the ship isn't ready to deploy now, it soon will be, said Gaouette and Capt. Ron Reis, its commander. Seventy to 80 percent of those who'll sail were on the last deployment.
"We're leveraging that," Gaouette said. "There's a lot of expertise still in the strike group."
The ship is focusing on three areas — training, ship condition and resiliency skills, Reis said. You can check off the first two.
"We're fully trained and qualified and ready to meet any task to come at us," he said.
The ship, which underwent a mini maintenance period in May and June, is in good shape.
"The John C. Stennis, from a material condition standpoint, is second to none," Reis said.
There are several programs available to stressed sailors and families who have to change plans and be apart, including the Family Readiness Group, ombudsman program, Morale Welfare and Recreation program and four onboard chaplains. Unlike when Reis joined the Navy and mailed letters home, families can communicate daily via email.
Gaouette told the crew last week that they'd be deploying four months early, and to the Mideast instead of the western Pacific. He expected some long faces, but found the opposite.
"They said they'd rather know," he said. "The news came as a relief because they could plan."
With the Afghanistan war continuing and Iran making threats, the Pentagon wants to keep two carriers in the Mideast. The USS Enterprise and USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike groups are there now. The USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is due to relieve the Lincoln group shortly. The Stennis group, requested by Central Command, will relieve the Enterprise, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday.
West Coast carriers generally stick to a cycle that comprises deployment to the Middle East, deployment to the western Pacific, maintenance periods and "surge" status for responding to emergencies. The Everett-based USS Nimitz could have drawn the Middle East assignment, but might not have had time to prepare after a 14-month maintenance period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard that ran two months late, until early March. The Navy never said what caused the delay other than more maintenance work was identified. Meanwhile, the Stennis and crew were still sharp from the previous deployment.
Deployment beginning and ending dates haven't been determined. They'll loosely be late summer and mid-spring.
"We're well equipped, well trained and we'll be ready for whatever is asked of us," Gaouette said.