The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, has replaced the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Middle East as the nuclear-powered carrier marks its maiden operational deployment, Navy officials said.

The San Diego-based carrier, which leads Carrier Strike Group 7, arrived in the Navy’s 5th Fleet area of operations Saturday, and is there to support U.S. military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our past nine months of training have been in preparation to support our troops on the ground in Iraq and carry out maritime security operations,” Rear Adm. Michael Miller, strike group commander, said in a Navy news release.

Aboard the $4.5 billion carrier is Carrier Air Wing 14, with about 85 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The Reagan left its home port Jan. 4 for an expected six-month deployment to the western Pacific Ocean and Persian Gulf.

In early February, during a port visit to Singapore, about 150 sailors performed community service in a few villages, another Navy news release stated.

Two serious incidents have marred the Reagan’s maiden deployment.

On Jan. 17, a petty officer first class died from severe burns to 70 percent of his body sustained during steam valve maintenance, according to the carrier’s Web site.

On Jan. 28, about 120 miles southeast of Brisbane, Australia, an F/A-18C Hornet crashed while trying to land aboard the carrier. The pilot safely ejected and was not injured.

More than 6,000 sailors are assigned to the carrier strike group, which includes Destroyer Squadron 7, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, the guided-missile destroyers USS McCampbell and USS Decatur, the fast combat support ship USS Rainer, and Explosives Ordnance Disposal Unit 11, Detachment 15.

The aircraft squadrons include Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22, VFA-25, VFA-113, VFA-115, Airborne Early Warning Squadron 113, Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 139, Carrier Logistics Support 30, and Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 4.

Commissioned in July 2003, the Reagan is the Navy’s ninth nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

The departing Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group made history on its deployment when a pair of the Navy’s retiring F-14 Tomcats marked the jet’s final mission Feb. 8.

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