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Rear Adm. Richard Wren greets his new sailors after taking command of the USS Kitty Hawk Strike Group Friday at Yokosuka Naval Base. Wren formerly directed the Aviation and Aircraft Carrier Plans branch for the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon.
Rear Adm. Richard Wren greets his new sailors after taking command of the USS Kitty Hawk Strike Group Friday at Yokosuka Naval Base. Wren formerly directed the Aviation and Aircraft Carrier Plans branch for the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Rear Adm. Richard Wren greets his new sailors after taking command of the USS Kitty Hawk Strike Group Friday at Yokosuka Naval Base. Wren formerly directed the Aviation and Aircraft Carrier Plans branch for the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon.
Rear Adm. Richard Wren greets his new sailors after taking command of the USS Kitty Hawk Strike Group Friday at Yokosuka Naval Base. Wren formerly directed the Aviation and Aircraft Carrier Plans branch for the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Enlisted sailors and officers gathered in the USS Kitty Hawk hangar bay on Friday for a Kitty Hawk Strike Group change-of-command ceremony.
Enlisted sailors and officers gathered in the USS Kitty Hawk hangar bay on Friday for a Kitty Hawk Strike Group change-of-command ceremony. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Hundreds of people crowded into the USS Kitty Hawk’s hangar bay Friday for the traditional Navy change-of-command ceremony for the aircraft carrier’s 10,000-person strike group.

Rear Adm. Richard Wren relieved Rear Adm. Douglas McClain as the strike group’s commander. Adm. Tim Keating gave the keynote address, and 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Doug Crowder said a few words.

Every man at the podium had been in the hangar bay before — some several times over several decades — and all had something to say about the “Hawk.” At 46 years old, Kitty Hawk is the Navy’s oldest active-duty ship and is scheduled to be replaced by the nuclear-propelled USS George Washington next year.

What they said:Keating: “USS Kitty Hawk has a mile or two on her, but I’ve done more arrests (landings) and more time aboard Kitty Hawk than any other ship in the U.S. Navy.”

First arriving on the Kitty Hawk as a midshipman in 1968, he did three deployments on the carrier, eventually becoming commanding officer of the Kitty Hawk Strike Group from 1998-2000.

“She is the oldest ship in active duty, but you go on today and you would not know it,” he said. “She may be aging gracefully, but she’s still a powerful weapon … and an important one.”

Crowder: “Thirty years ago, I boarded the USS Kitty Hawk as a lieutenant junior grade and worked with 139 of ‘God’s children’ as boiler techs,” Crowder said. “I spent 25 months as a crewmember aboard this ship. Now fast-forward 30 years: I’ve never seen the ship look more ready.”

McClain:“Kitty Hawk is getting tired. The tremendous ability to provide us with the capacity to keep Kitty Hawk in its best readiness condition is due to the captain and crew and the ship repair facility.”

McClain formerly commanded Naval Air Facility Atsugi’s Carrier Air Wing 5 and has flown on 12 different carriers in 27 years.

The USS George Washington is a “marvel,” McClain said.

“I envy you,” he said to Wren, who will be a part of the George Washington transition. “But I won’t trade my Kitty Hawk memories. We’ve broken a lot of glass over the last 18 months.”

Wren: “It was 1975 when Midshipman Wren came to the Kitty Hawk. It took 20 to get back to Japan — to Atsugi — where Diane and I spent three wonderful years.”

Wren was executive officer for the Airborne Early Warning Squadron 115 Liberty Bells in 1993, assuming command in 1995.

“I knew in 2003 that ‘We must return to Japan,’” Wren said. “This is a thrilling day to be standing here in the hangar bay of the Kitty Hawk.”

The Kitty Hawk Strike Group includes the carrier, the embarked Carrier Air Wing 5 of Atsugi, plus nine guided-missile cruisers and guided-missile destroyers. About 10,000 people work in the Navy’s largest strike group; their average age is 19, McClain said Friday.

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