Vinson filled in while Kitty Hawk went to Persian Gulf
Stars and Stripes May 13, 2003
ABOARD THE USS CARL VINSON — Crew members of this 100,000-ton aircraft carrier say they don’t hold a grudge against the USS Kitty Hawk — even though its absence is why they’ve spent the past months in the Pacific instead of in a war zone.
The USS Carl Vinson was called to the Western Pacific on Feb. 4 after the Kitty Hawk — the Navy’s only forward-deployed carrier — was ordered to the Persian Gulf to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Sailors and airmen on the Vinson said they expect some “friendly” rivalry with their sister ship while on liberty in Yokosuka, Japan, for several days.
“It’s a little competitive, of course,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelton Ringo, 27, a boatswain’s mate from Lithonia, Ga. “They’re going to say, ‘We went out to the Gulf. What did you guys do?’”
But, it’s all in good fun, Ringo said, and Vinson sailors feel their mission is no less important.
“If we’re going to be away from our families, we just want something to do,” he added. “Our purpose was to protect their front while they were out.”
The Vinson’s commander, Capt. Richard Wren, said he doesn’t second-guess why the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was ordered to “back-fill” for the Kitty Hawk while it and other carriers went off to help fight the war.
“If you look at all of our sister ships, they are proven warriors out there around the world now,” he said. “I think you’ve got a military that across the board has proved itself. So, if the mission we are tasked with is to come here and maintain a presence, it’s a significant presence.”
The Vinson, with 5,200 crew members, docked near Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Saturday morning for a port call — its fourth, not including Hawaii — since leaving its permanent station of Bremerton, Wash., on Jan. 13.
Unlike carriers involved in the war, some of which were at sea for more than 100 straight days, the Vinson’s sailors have had opportunities to stretch their legs in exotic ports.
“Our sister ships, their list of port calls was not particularly extensive,” Wren said. “It’s a trade-off. Nothing is for free.”
A good liberty call is a sailors’ reward for the monotony of sea life, said Command Master Chief Petty Officer Rick Rose.
“You work ’til you drop, you get up and do it again, day in, day out,” he said. “It really helps rekindle your motivation. You depressurize a little bit when you’re on liberty.”
The outbreak of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in parts of Asia has curtailed some of the Vinson’s fun — or at least redirected it.
“It has been an influence on where we’ll go with the ship,” Wren said. “We have not been to Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.”
One of the Vinson’s port calls on this deployment held political significance.
In March, the carrier sailed within striking distance of North Korea when it made a brief port call in Pusan, South Korea, and took part in Foal Eagle, an annual exercise by United States troops and South Korean naval and army units to practice techniques and improve readiness. It was the first time in four years that a carrier made a port visit to South Korea during the exercise.
Wren said the Vinson is patrolling the 7th Fleet area of operations primarily because of North Korea.
“You can call us a deterrent; you can call us a stabilizing influence … but I think that our presence in this area is … very comforting to our allies and good friends in the Western Pacific, and it certainly sends a bit of a message to those who might be acting up, so to speak,” he said.
North Korea’s government maintains it has the materials to make nuclear weapons. April talks among the United States, North Korea and China broke down when Pyongyang demanded concessions from Washington before it would abandon its arms program.
Vinson sailors say they keep a close watch on CNN and Fox News for the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula. With the Kitty Hawk due to undergo maintenance in dry dock and North Korea showing little sign of reversing course, they say they’re resigned to a long deployment.
Some crew members said they wouldn’t be surprised if the Vinson broke the USS Abraham Lincoln’s recent record stint of almost 10 months at sea.
Rear Adm. Marty Chanik, Carrier Group Three commander, spoke to sailors about the deployment schedule at a Friday night all-hands call aboard.
“They’ve heard a lot of rumors about what our long-range schedule might look like, so I wanted to let them know the background of those rumors,” he explained.
One sailor, helping to clean the ship’s wardroom Friday, hinted at one of the rumors.
“I don’t want to hear him say, ‘We’re going to November,’” he said to his buddies, trying to decide whether to take a break from work and attend the admiral’s call.
Nonetheless, Chanik said the Vinson’s deployment “doesn’t have an official date yet for when it will complete. There’re various options out there that are being discussed at the higher levels.”