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Capt. Todd Zecchin, new commanding officer of the USS Kitty Hawk, brings with him firsthand knowledge of what it's like to decommission a conventionally-powered aircraft carrier. Zecchin's previous position was skipper of the John F. Kennedy, which was decommissioned in March.

Capt. Todd Zecchin, new commanding officer of the USS Kitty Hawk, brings with him firsthand knowledge of what it's like to decommission a conventionally-powered aircraft carrier. Zecchin's previous position was skipper of the John F. Kennedy, which was decommissioned in March. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Decommissioning aircraft carriers doesn’t happen that often, says Capt. Todd Zecchin. Even so, Zecchin may see two decommissioning ceremonies in back-to-back Navy tours.

Zecchin was commanding officer of the USS John F. Kennedy, when it was decommissioned March 23. Last week he took the helm of USS Kitty Hawk, which departed Yokosuka Naval Base on Wednesday for an extended deployment. Though Kitty Hawk has not received official decommission notice, the 46-year-old ship is scheduled to be replaced by the nuclear-powered USS George Washington next summer.

“It’s just timing,” Zecchin said Tuesday of his assignments to the Navy’s last two non-nuclear powered carriers. Decommissioning the Kennedy taught him a bit about what Kitty Hawk sailors and families may experience in coming years, he said.

But the situations between the two ships differ, said Zecchin. The Florida-based JFK was regulated for use as a training platform before its final tour. Kitty Hawk, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, will keep to a high operational tempo before “turning over” with its replacement.

“We’re going to have to take everything in stages and steps,” Zecchin said. “You have to stay focused on the ‘wolf closest to the fire.’”

For Kitty Hawk, that means keeping to its schedule of deployments and maintenance periods, while also making sure the crew and their families have what they need to make the transition in 2008, he said.

The turnover will be conducted in Hawaii before the Hawk continues on to San Diego. If the ship is decommissioned there, it will eventually be towed and “deactivated” in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Wash.

Decommissioning an aircraft carrier is a big job, Zecchin said, as the Kitty Hawk has more than 2,600 spaces.

“In a ship as big as this, decommissioning takes a lot of time, effort and people power. It’s not like the crew leaves the ship on decommission day. That’s just the day the ship is released from Navy commission … there’s still a lot of work to do.”

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