USS Ronald Reagan departs Yokosuka for what may be its final patrol before carrier swap
Stars and Stripes May 23, 2023
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Strong winds and rough seas greeted the USS Ronald Reagan as it left the home of the U.S. 7th Fleet for what could be its last deployment out of Japan before a carrier swap next year.
Despite the foul weather, around 40 people gathered alongside Yokosuka’s northern shoreline to watch the aircraft carrier steam into Tokyo Bay. Wrapped in raincoats and braced against the wind, they gave the ship a quiet farewell.
The weather was no deterrent for Crystal Cohee, who said sending her husband, operations officer Lt. Cmdr. Justin Cohee, off to sea is a privilege.
“It’s nice to still see it head out, regardless of the weather,” she told Stars and Stripes along the shoreline Tuesday. “It’s such an amazing ship.”
The Ronald Reagan typically returns to Yokosuka after several months, usually halfway through its six-month patrol of the Indo-Pacific region, but Tuesday’s departure marked what is likely the carrier’s final deployment before it relocates for maintenance at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash.
The Navy on April 28 announced the aircraft carrier USS George Washington will replace the Ronald Reagan as the centerpiece of the 7th Fleet’s carrier strike group sometime next year, although it did not report an exact date.
The George Washington over the past six years has been undergoing its midlife nuclear refueling and maintenance at Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. It left the shipyard on Monday for sea trials expected to last several days, USNI News reported that day.
The aircraft carrier previously served as the 7th Fleet’s lead ship from 2008 to 2015, before the Ronald Reagan took its place.
Yokosuka over the past several years has typically held pier-side ceremonies for the Ronald Reagan’s major departures and arrivals, but no ceremony took place ahead of Tuesday’s departure due to scheduling and weather issues, Task Force 70 spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Keiley told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday.
The ship departed just one day after Naval Forces Japan confirmed to Stars and Stripes that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating an undisclosed number of sailors assigned to the Ronald Reagan for “alleged drug use, possession and distribution.”
Details, such as the substances involved or the extent of drug use aboard the ship, are not being disclosed due to the active investigation, Naval Forces Japan spokeswoman Cmdr. Katie Cerezo said by email Monday.
The carrier was the center of another drug investigation in 2018 in which 15 sailors were implicated in a ring that included the distribution and use of LSD and ecstasy.
All but one of the sailors were assigned to the Ronald Reagan’s nuclear reactor department; five sailors went to court-martial and 10 received nonjudicial punishments in connection with the case.
Ahead of the Ronald Reagan’s departure Tuesday, the guided-missile cruiser USS Robert Smalls also steamed into Tokyo Bay. The carrier will link up later with the Robert Smalls, Carrier Air Wing 5 and with the cruiser USS Antietam, which was still at Yokosuka as of Tuesday afternoon, Keiley said by email Tuesday.
The Ronald Reagan, along with its embarked air wing, the two cruisers and ships from Destroyer Squadron 15 are “expected to work with allies and partners in support of the rules-based international order, as well as maintain presence and flexibility,” Keiley said.