USS George Washington gets new captain ahead of crew swap, overhaul
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 30, 2015
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The captain slated to guide the aircraft carrier USS George Washington through a crew swap with the USS Ronald Reagan later this summer took command of his ship Friday.
Capt. Timothy Kuehhas, a native of Sayville, N.Y., relieved Capt. Greg Fenton aboard the George Washington’s hangar deck in front of Japanese and U.S. dignitaries, as well as several hundred crewmembers.
Navy officials said Friday that the hull swap is scheduled for late summer in San Diego following a maintenance period and a planned Western Pacific patrol. Most of the George Washington’s crew will transfer to the Reagan in San Diego, then continue their patrol before bringing the carrier back to its new Yokosuka home port.
Kuehhas will remain with George Washington as it transits to Virginia, where it will begin a multibillion-dollar refueling and complex overhaul that is expected to take as long as four years to complete.
“There is extra effort that goes into preparing George Washington for the overhaul,” Kuehhas said.
The main effort will be inspecting the 1,092-foot ship for areas that may need added maintenance work.
“We will basically take the ship down to bare metal,” Kuehhas said.
There will be very little gap between George Washington’s Western Pacific tour and USS Ronald Reagan’s transit toward the region, said a Navy official familiar with the ship’s plans.
When the Navy announced the hull swap last year, some media outlets reported that Japanese lawmakers were concerned about a potentially long period with no U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the region.
In December, President Barack Obama signed a congressional spending bill that provided the initial funding for George Washington’s overhaul. Prior to that, some in Congress and the Pentagon were considering decommissioning the ship due to budget shortfalls.
USS George Washington was commissioned in 1992 and is approaching the middle of its expected length of service.
George Washington’s outgoing commander, Capt. Greg Fenton, will remain in Yokosuka pending future assignment.
Seventh Fleet commander Vice Adm. Robert Thomas Jr. lauded Fenton’s leadership, citing accomplishments that included 61,000 deck flights during his tenure, along with a sortie completion rate above 98 percent.
Thomas also noted the ship’s critical participation in relief operations after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013.
Fenton later cited the mission as a highlight of his tenure.
“We sailed as fast as we could and we were on scene ready to operate,” Fenton told Stars and Stripes. “And I think our presence there saved many lives.”