The first U.S. Navy ship named for Carl Vinson -- born in Baldwin County, Ga., on 18 November 1893, son of Edward S. and Anne M. Vinson -- attended Georgia Military College in Milledgeville and graduated from Mercer University Law School with an LL.B. degree in 1902, beginning practice on 5 June of that year. Vinson’s appointment as Baldwin County Prosecutor in 1904 started a career of more than 60 consecutive years of service in public office. Elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1909, he remained there until 1912, serving as Speaker Pro Tempore during his second term. He returned to his home county as County Court Judge (3 October 1912–2 November 1914).
He was elected as a Democrat the next day to the House of Representatives (63rd Congress) to fill an unexpired term caused by Thomas W. Hardwick’s resignation. Vinson became a popular candidate who normally ran against only token opposition, and the people of Georgia returned him to that office for 26 successive terms. He also became the dean of Georgia’s congressional delegation. During his first speech on national defense, Vinson stated his conviction that the Republic’s needs should be determined without partisan political pressure, and predicted the growth of the world’s fleets. Soon thereafter, his strong belief in the efficacy of sea power in national defense earned him a seat on the House Naval Affairs Committee, from which he would guide America toward a powerful presence upon the seas. His subsequent chairmanship of the committee beginning in 1931 (72nd Congress) gained him the nickname of “The Admiral.”
Vinson supported a series of naval construction bills to bring American sea power up to the standards of the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty of 1922, and the London Naval Limitation Treaty of 1930. Working with Senator Park Trammell of Florida, he introduced a bill in 1934 to bring U.S. naval strength up to the limits authorized by these treaties within eight years. The resulting legislation reversed a decade and a half of naval neglect and retrenchment and bore the handiwork of the two men to such a degree that it became known as the Vinson-Trammell Act. Despite the rise of fascism in Europe and the Far East, and the expansion of the German, Italian, and Japanese fleets during the years preceding WWII, Congress remained divided concerning naval growth, largely due to economic restraints imposed by the Great Depression and lingering disillusionment among Americans concerning the country’s involvement in WWI. Undaunted, Vinson strove for naval reform and readiness, presenting additional bills and opening hearings intended to place the U.S. fleet on a par with those of the totalitarian powers. In 1938 and 1940, he introduced bills to raise the fleet to treaty limits, the latter known as the Vinson Naval Expansion Act. All three of his principal legislative efforts included a strong emphasis on Naval Aviation, and congressional representatives referred to them colloquially as “The [1st–3rd] Vinson Bills.”
Vinson’s determination largely ensured that the United States entered the war with a fleet capable of absorbing the initial Axis blows until the Navy could be increased to defeat the enemy. The Naval Affairs and Military Affairs Committees joined as the Armed Services Committee in 1947, and Vinson served as the committee’s chairman for the remainder of his legislative career, except for four years of a Republican-controlled Congress. Vinson retired from Congress at age 80 in January 1965, and returned to Milledgeville. “America is strong,” he reflected during the warships’ keel laying on 11 October 1975 at Newport News, Va., “but she is in danger of becoming weak. This great aircraft carrier will add strength. But it must not stop here. Only with determination on the part of our people to remain militarily strong, will we survive.” Vinson died in Milledgeville on 1 June 1981 and was interred in Memory Hill Cemetery.
(CVN-70: Displacement 101,133; length 1,092'; beam 252'; draft 41'; speed 30 + knots; complement 5,759; armament: three Basic Point Defense Surface Missile System (BPDMS), 2 40 millimeter saluting guns, aircraft 85–90; class Nimitz)
Carl Vinson (CVN-70) was laid down on 11 October 1975 at Newport News, Va., by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co.; launched on 15 March 1980, sponsored by Mrs. Molly Snead, a devoted friend and administrative assistant to Representative Vinson, who nursed his wife Mary Vinson (who suffered from severe arthritis) during the years that led up to his wife’s death in 1950; and commissioned on 13 March 1982, Capt. Richard L. Martin in command.
On 26 January 1982, two Soviet Tupolev Tu-95D Bear reconnaissance planes flying out of Cuba circled Carl Vinson as she completed sea trials within 42 miles of Cape Charles, Va. (24–27 January). An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft and a Grumman E-2C Hawkeye from Naval Air Station (NAS) Norfolk, Va., directed a pair of McDonnell Douglas F-4S Phantom IIs from Fighter Squadron (VF) 74 from NAS Oceana, Va., and two USAF McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles from Langley Air Force Base, Va., to keep an eye on the Bears. The Eagles intercepted the Russians about 190 miles from the carrier and escorted them away, handing the Soviets off to the Phantom IIs, who shepherded the Bears back to Cuban waters. Analysts perceived the move as unusually provocative during a period of heightened tension between the two powers resulting from the Cold War arms build-up in Europe. The event caused great controversy in the media, as well as led to heated exchanges between American and East Bloc diplomats. Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, however, on board to observe her progress, directed attention to the new ship’s capabilities in an era of international strife, pointing out that the ship's nuclear propulsion made her “independent of the propulsion fuel oil umbilical cord.” Carl Vinson then logged her first underway time as a commissioned warship while hosting a dependent’s cruise as she shifted berths from Newport News to Pier 12 at Naval Station (NS) Norfolk on 15 March.
Carl Vinson completed her initial operational sea period while off the Virginia coast (18 March–2 April 1982). Lieutenant Commanders Kenneth K. Grubbs and Thomas Russell of the Strike Aircraft Test Directorate accomplished McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet sea trials on board, beginning on 22 March. Grubbs and Russell made 63 catapult launches and arrested landings, numerous touch-and-go landings, and intentional “bolters” (deliberately missing the ship’s arresting cables). These flights marked the second Hornet sea trials since the original at-sea tests on board aircraft carrier America (CV-66) (30 October–2 November 1979). In addition, Cmdr. Stephen C. Wood, the commanding officer of Air Anti-Submarine Squadron (VS) 32, logged the ship’s first arrested landing, in a Lockheed S-3A Viking. Carl Vinson then completed her shakedown cruise, including carrier qualifications and refresher training, in the Caribbean, principally off Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (15 April–11 June). The carrier made her first underway refueling, with frigate Moinester (FF-1097) on 16 April, and her initial underway weapons onload, with fast combat support ship Seattle (AOE-3) two days later. Although she visited St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands (17–20 May) and Barbados (23–25 May), the Navy cancelled a visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, due to tensions in the region arising from the Falklands [Malvinas] War between the British and Argentines, shortening Carl Vinson’s cruise by almost two weeks.
Carl Vinson conducted a post shakedown availability at her building yard (23 July–10 December 1982). The ship offloaded her weapons at “Whisky” anchorage on the Elizabeth River on 23 July and proceeded to the deperming (reducing her permanent magnetism to protect against magnetic mines and torpedoes” crib at nearby Craney Island the next day. Reaching Newport News on 2 August, Carl Vinson entered Shipway No. 11 (drydock) on 11 September. Workers installed two 3,500 gallon Aqueous Film Forming Foam storage tanks in the hangar bay overhead, significantly increasing fire-fighting capabilities. While in the shipyard, she served as flagship for the commander of Orange forces during ReadiEx-82. In addition, Adm. James D. Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), announced that her home port would shift from Norfolk to NAS Alameda, Calif., effective on 1 March 1983. Under Secretary of the Navy James F. Goodrich had previously announced that Carl Vinson would relieve Coral Sea (CV-43), which would switch home ports with the former. Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman Jr., however, overturned the decision, with speculation centering on concerns over balancing carrier strength between the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. The move also became controversial by affecting sailors scheduled to cross-deck between the two ships. Carl Vinson undocked on 20 November, and Rear Adm. Kendall E. Moranville, Commander Carrier Group (CarGru) 4, broke his flag in her on 2 December. The ship completed post availability sea trials, including additional Hornet operations, off the Virginia capes, before returning for the holidays (11–15 December 1982).
Early in the New Year Carl Vinson accomplished refresher training, carrier qualifications, and an Operational Readiness Exam (ORE) in Puerto Rican waters (4 January–4 February 1983). The ship anchored at Roosevelt Roads, P.R., on 30 January, which afforded divers the opportunity to photograph the No. 2 screw and discover several cracks on the edges of the blades. The carrier got underway the next morning and returned to Pier 12 at Norfolk on 4 February, unloading ammunition that day. Carl Vinson had her No. 2 screw replaced while she lay in drydock at Newport News (6–16 February). She then reloaded fuel and ammunition at Whisky anchorage (17–18 February).
Carl Vinson then sailed on her maiden deployment, a global circumnavigation and a change of home ports from Norfolk to Alameda (1 March–29 October 1983). Rear Adm. Moranville and Cmdr. Thomas S. Slater, Commander (CAG) Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 15, embarked on board the ship. The wing comprised: Attack Squadron (VA) 52 (Grumman A-6E Intruders and KA-6Ds), VA-37, and VA-105 (LTV A-7 Corsair IIs); VF-51 and VF-111 (Grumman F-14A Tomcats); Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 114 (Hawkeyes); Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 134 (Grumman EA-6B Prowlers); VS-29 (Vikings); and Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) 4 (Sikorsky SH-3H Sea Kings).
A Soviet Bear reconnoitered the ship while she operated off Puerto Rico, although her fighters did not intercept the Russians, on 5 March. On 11 March a Tupolev Tu-142 Bear-F attempted to inspect Carl Vinson, but her Tomcats intercepted the bomber at 595 nautical miles and escorted the Bear for 17 minutes until the inquisitive Soviet aircraft exited the area. The ship participated in a “war at sea” scenario with Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and John F. Kennedy (CV-67), conducting flight operations in association with the “hostilities” phase of ReadiEx 1-83 (15–16 March). Taking on stores and ammunition on 17 March, Carl Vinson headed for the Mediterranean, accompanied by guided missile cruiser Texas (CGN-39) and Brumby (FF-1044). Carl Vinson's Tomcats intercepted a Bear 200 miles out, but the Soviets maneuvered aggressively and the Americans escorted them for two and a half hours on 19 March. On 26 March Carl Vinson passed eastward through the Strait of Gibraltar and immediately began AdEx 1-83, an air operations exercise with Moroccan Northrop F-5 Tigers and Dassault Breguet F.1 Mirages. The Moroccans flew simulated strikes against the carrier, and U.S. aircraft retaliated by attacking their airfields. The fleet air defense phase of the exercise occurred in an area of restricted maneuverability barely 20 miles from shore, compelling the Tomcats to intercept their Moroccan adversaries at low altitudes in multiple engagements.
The carrier participated in exercise National Week in the western Mediterranean, operating as Orange flagship against Blue forces led by Nimitz (CVN-68) (4–27 April). Tomcats of VF-51 flew low level dissimilar air combat maneuvering against McDonnell Douglas F-4Ns from CVWR-20 and long range (800 nautical miles) strikes against Nimitz. In addition, HS-4 successfully recovered a man overboard during this period. Aircraft No. 103, however, an F-14 (BuNo 160662) from VF-51 crashed during the first watch on 9 April, near 38º11'N, 005º52'E, as Carl Vinson steamed from Monte Carlo, Monaco, to Casablanca, Morocco. Although a calm night, the water temperature nonetheless dropped to a chilling 55º F., adding the threat of hypothermia to the sense of urgency among the search and rescue teams. Although Helo Nos 614 and 615 of HS-4, together with lookouts, spotted debris, and the ship launched her starboard motor whale boat, searchers failed to locate either man. During an aerial firepower demonstration for Moroccan visitors on 12 April, Intruders from VA-52 dropped 22 MK 82 bombs in a practice run alongside the ship, forming, in the eyes of one squadron observer, a “wall-of-water.” The ship then visited Abidjan, Ivory Coast (23–25 April). Carl Vinson crossed the equator at the Prime Meridian at 0542 on 28 April 1983. She then (3–5 May) rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean. Heavy seas pounded the ship but a number of crewmembers noted with relief that the weather did not deteriorate as harshly as they as had expected for that time of year at the Cape, an area known for four weather, especially during the winter season in the Southern Hemisphere.
Australian guided missile frigate Canberra (F.02) operated with Carl Vinson as the carrier proceeded toward Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory (9–13 May). The Australian ship, the Americans noted, “proved a worthy adversary.” The clear weather enabled Tomcats of VF-51 to take part in in Glad Customer 83-4H, an electronic warfare exercise vs. USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortresses near Diego Garcia (17–18 May). The ship launched a mixed force of one Hawkeye, a Douglas EA-3B Skywarrior, two Vikings, and two sections of Tomcats with KA-6D tanker support, to intercept the B-52s at 400 nautical miles. Carl Vinson next operated in the North Arabian Sea (19 May–7 June). Her aircrew had planned to fly an average of six days on and two off, maintaining a daily maximum of 85 sorties, 11 to 12 of which would be fighter. Inquisitive Soviet Ilyushin Il-38 Mays consistently disrupted the schedules, and the extreme temperatures and dust created safety and habitability problems. Sea Kings from HS-4 honed their submarine hunting skills against attack submarine Boston (SSN-701). Carl Vinson also participated in Beacon Flash 83-6 with the Omanis (29–31 May). Omani SEPECAT Jaguars and Hawker Hunters attacked the ship, tangling with her Tomcats, and the Americans flew strikes against targets at Thumrait, Oman, defended by Jaguars and Rapier Short Range Air Defense missiles. “With several Beacon Flashes behind them,” an observer in VF-51 noted, “the Omanis were hard to surprise.”
While en route to Diego Garcia, Carl Vinson participated in a war at sea exercise with Coral Sea (8–18 June 1983). The latter also completed a world cruise as she shifted home ports from Alameda, Calif., to Norfolk (21 March–12 September). The two carriers launched long range (1,000 nautical miles) strikes against each other, and in MultiPlEx 83-3, a combined arms exercise, Carl Vinson operated with Worden (CG-18) and Phoenix (SSN-702). Rear Adm. Moranville embarked in Coral Sea on 9 June, cross-decking with Rear Adm. Paul F. McCarthy Jr., Commander CarGru 1, who embarked in Carl Vinson. Upon reaching 45 days at sea on 18 June, the crew enjoyed a “Steel Beach picnic,” including beer and a boxing match. After clearing the Diego Garcia area, Carl Vinson again exercised with Phoenix while steaming toward Western Australia (19–30 June). Poor weather forced her to cancel most aerial phases of Beacon South 83-2. Rain-slicked and pitching decks made flight operations challenging, and “just taxiing,” recalled an observer in VA-52, “became an exciting, terrifying experience.” Following 64 continuous days at sea, Carl Vinson visited Perth, Australia (1–7 July). Tomcats from VF-51 participated in Vector South against USAF F-15 Eagles of the Thirteenth Air Force’s 18th Tactical Fighter Wing operating in the maritime role (19–20 July). “Fighters dropped the tanks,” an observer in VF-51 reflected, “and fought clean for the first time in the deployment.” Rear Adm. McCarthy disembarked and Rear Adm. Thomas F. Brown III, Commander CarGru 5, embarked (22–24 July). Two days later the ship again crossed the equator.
Aircraft No. 307, an A-7E, Lt. (j.g.) Murray J. Charles of VA-37 at the controls, missed the wires and hit the ramp during a night landing on 26 July. It was a calm night, though light cross winds posed landing problems. Charles ejected as his Corsair II went over the angled deck into the water, at about 006º21’6”N, 067º42’6”E. Helicopter No. 612, supported by a helo from Cook (FF-1083), picked up the pilot 16 minutes later. Charles survived but suffered back pains and difficulty breathing, and required intensive care. Carl Vinson served as flagship for Battle Group Charlie during Bright Star 83-4/Eastern Wind with USMC and the Somalis in the Gulf of Aden (13–22 August). Carl Vinson maintained an around-the-clock alert vs. Soviet and Yemeni Mikoyan Gurevich aircraft (MiGs) and patrol boats capable of launching anti-ship missiles. Bright Star enabled her aircraft to fly against McDonnell Douglas AV-8A Harriers of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 231 Detachment B, operating from amphibious assault ship Tarawa (LHA-1), as she steamed off Berbera, Somalia. Seasonal haze restricted visibility, however, and the crew experienced what they referred to as “Indian Ocean ennui,” noting that “Any kind of change was welcome.” They celebrated their second beer day of the deployment on 25 August. During the evening of 17 September Carl Vinson rescued Vietnamese refugees -- known to journalists as “boat people” -- escaping communist persecution and the upheaval that still lingered following the fall of the Saigon regime in 1975.
Carl Vinson took part in AnnualEx 83-58G in the Sea of Japan, where her Tomcats battled USAF F-15s and McDonnell Douglas A-4M Skyhawks (28–30 September 1983). Super Typhoon Forrest slammed into the task force and forced Carl Vinson to cancel the remaining events of the exercise and change course to evade the high seas. Carl Vinson arrived off Pusan in South Korea for a routine visit (5–12 October). On 9 October, however, assassins detonated a bomb among a South Korean delegation led by President Chun D. Hwan, as the South Koreans prepared to visit the Martyr’s Mausoleum at Rangoon in Burma. The explosion killed 21 people and injured 48 more, though the blast failed to kill President Hwan, who arrived late. The bombing caused widespread repercussions due to rumors crediting the assassins with being North Korean agents, which necessitated that Battle Group Charlie remain in Korean waters for “contingency operations” because of a possible war between the two Koreas. The crew received word that the Navy might extend the ship’s deployment, but diplomatic efforts defused the crisis, enabling the carrier to complete her cruise. Carl Vinson sailed beneath San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge for the first time and moored to Pier 3 at her new home port of Alameda, completing a world cruise during the afternoon of 29 October 1983. The ship accomplished more than 11,500 aircraft launches and recoveries and sailed upward of 40,000 miles during her maiden deployment. Tomcats intercepted Russian Bears, Mays, and Antonov An-12 Cubs 28 times.
The ship completed a variety of post-deployment training exercises in Californian waters, as well as maintenance and upkeep, during the months following her return. Mayor Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco, California, declared Carl Vinson to be “San Francisco’s Own,” authorizing a 33-member USS Carl Vinson Committee to solidify relations with the ship, on 2 March 1984. Famed NFL quarterback Joseph C. “Joe” Montana Jr., of the San Francisco 49ers, visited the ship for the filming of an NFL Most Valuable Player Award ceremony three days later, and a television crew from KPIX-TV 5 Evening Magazine also shot a feature story about the ship (9–10 March). In addition to the plethora of minor exercises, Carl Vinson took part in RimPac (Rim of the Pacific) Maritime-84, a series of multi-scenario exercises stretching from southern California to the mid-Pacific (31 May–18 June).
Carl Vinson deployed to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans (13 October 1984–24 May 1985). Aircraft No. 425 (BuNo 152789), a Grumman C-2A Greyhound from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 50, and an EA-3B of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 1 Detachment Charlie, also later embarked with CVW-15. Logistics sailors leapfrogged ahead of the ship to Pearl Harbor, Hi., and then to Guam and the Philippines. Utilizing the latter as a base of operations, they also sent detachments to various Japanese facilities and to Diego Garcia. During FleetEx 85 Phase I in the Eastern Pacific (18–30 October), Carl Vinson conducted dual carrier battle group operations with Constellation (CV-64). In addition, her aircraft participated in four Busy Observer exercises with USAF B-52Hs. The Soviets monitored the ship from the outset and Tomcats from VF-51 and VF-111 intercepted a pair of Bear-D’s 229 nautical miles out on the very first day. Apparently, aggressive flying prevented the Russians -- who closed to 95 nautical miles before changing course -- from locating the carrier. Tomcats intercepted a second pair of Bears two days later at a range of 86 nautical miles. Carl Vinson then provided close air support for marines practicing amphibious landings at Barking Sands, Hi., in Bell Volcano 85-1 (31 October–1 November) before putting into Pearl Harbor, prior to continuing on into the Western Pacific.
Numerous Soviet reconnaissance flights dogged Carl Vinson, Enterprise (CVN-65) and Midway (CV-41) during FleetEx 85. The Orange opposition comprised USN, USMC, and USAF aircraft including Lockheed KC-135s and Boeing E-3A Sentries, and seven Japanese and U.S. submarines, both diesel and nuclear powered types, including Drum (SSN-677), Pogy (SSN-647), and Tautog (SSN-639). The participants also simulated a Soviet aerial ‘multiwave regimental size raid. Carl Vinson originally planned to operate with Midway during FleetEx 85 Phase II, but Typhoons Bill and Clara forced her to cancel her participation on both occasions (10–21 November). The ship steamed northeast of the storm centers on the 30 knot wind radius. She then took part in Phase III: Alpha -- led by Midway -- and Foxtrot -- led by Enterprise (22 November–10 December). The three groups joined east of the Philippines and transited north past Okinawa toward northern Japan. Additional Soviet surveillance aircraft searched for the ships, which utilized evasive measures to avoid the prying eyes, aided by foul weather that hindered flying. A very strong westerly wind apparently forced the sixth Bear to disengage and refuel and the plane did not spot any of the ship until their sixth mission on 30 November, by which point the Americans had bypassed the Okinawa area. Aircraft from all three carriers tangled in a mock battle with their Air Force opposite numbers off Okinawa, but that service’s regulations stated that interceptors should be unarmed when intercepting USAF tactical aircraft.
The bitter northern weather, with temperatures dropping to 15º F. and winds increasing to 50 knots, forced men above deck to wear foul weather gear and for ships to quickly rotate watchstanders. Crewmen found their “extreme foul” weather face masks to be especially useful, though heavy mittens proved too cumbersome for flight deck use. Keeping their feet warm proved the most challenging weather-related problem for the crew. The ship set up a soup kitchen on the 03 level to provide hot chocolate, coffee, soup and doughnuts to watchstanders numbed by the cold.
At one point the Americans unexpectedly detected Soviet Bears inbound, with 25 Tomcats from Carl Vinson and Enterprise, together with Phantom IIs from Midway airborne but unarmed. Men frantically raced to recover F-14As on both of the former carriers, rearm and scramble them aloft. Altogether, the Russians made seven aerial attempts to shadow Carl Vinson during her transit. Upon completing the exercise, Enterprise was detached to return to the Third Fleet while Carl Vinson and Midway passed through the Tsugaru Strait into the Sea of Japan, with an AWACs shepherding them. “The three days that followed” Capt. Thomas A. Mercer, Carl Vinson’s commanding officer noted, “were the most exciting periods of the deployment.” Russian aircraft, including Bears, Beriev Be-12 Mails and Ilyushin Il-38s, in addition to ships and submarines conducted continuous surveillance, forcing the two carriers to stagger their flight schedules to maintain 24-hour air coverage, a grueling pace. USMC Phantom IIs flying from Japan helped by intercepting some of these Soviet bombers.
A few Soviet aircraft proved noticeably audacious, and as the ships attempted to watch some shadowing Mays on the morning of 2 December, a pair of Badgers closed the carriers to within 150 nautical miles. Shortly afterward, two Bear-Ds orbited at a distance varying from 180 to 220 nautical miles to the northwest. The range of Russian anti-ship missiles carried by these bombers made these incidents dangerous episodes for Carl Vinson and Midway, and in this instance Carl Vinson launched her alert combat air patrol (CAP) and a Hawkeye to supplement Midway’s CAP to counter a large raid forming to the north and northwest. Adm. Sylvester R. Foley Jr., Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet, watched the confrontation unfold from Carl Vinson’s Combat Direction Center. The crew manned their Battle Stations as radar operators tracked multiple regimental-sized raids comprising an estimated three Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire-Bs, two Bear-Ds, nine Tupolev Tu-16 Badgers, and six Mays approaching from three different directions, backed up by numerous fighters that flew barrier CAPs. Tomcats from both carriers intercepted the bombers during tense encounters.
The undaunted Soviets returned the next day and two MiG-23 Floggers and two Sukhoi (Su) 15F Flagons joined two Bear-Ds, two Badgers, two Mays, and two Mails in another series of sweeps against the ships, requiring Tomcats to escort the Flagons for over two hours. A Hawkeye of VAW-114 directed a Tomcat to intercept the Floggers. The Americans maneuvered to within ¾ of a mile on the trail Flogger’s “six o’clock position” and observed the Soviets to be armed with two R-23 (AA-7) Apex and four R-60 (AA-8) Aphid air-to-air missiles, increasing tension between the two nation’s aviators. The Hawkeye detected an additional Flagon outbound and vectored a pair of Tomcats to intercept it.
Surface surveillance included a Kashin-class guided missile destroyer, joined by a Kara-class guided missile cruiser a short while later, after the Kara emergency sortied from Vladivostok without running lights to avoid detection. Carl Vinson launched an Intruder that discovered the Kara and the Russians responded by simultaneously radiating their air search, missile, and gun fire control radars. Destroyer John Young (DD-973) and Knox (FF-1052) detached to monitor the Soviets. Meanwhile, an Intruder located a larger battle group, consisting of aircraft carrier Novorossiysk (CVHG-137, Project 1143), another Kara, a Kresta-class guided missile cruiser, two Krivak-class guided missile frigates, and a Primorye-class intelligence collector, on a southeasterly course from Vladivostok. The Soviets closed to within 60 nautical miles and Novorossiysk utilized over-the-horizon-targeting to threaten the Americans. The Intruder watched them until a Tomcat from VF-111 arrived and photographed the snoopers via the Tactical Air Reconnaissance System (TARPS). After crossing the Sea of Japan the carriers separated, so the Novorossiysk group set course for Russian waters, although the Kara continued to trail Carl Vinson for some time. Midway proceeded toward Pusan, while Carl Vinson put in to Yokosuka, Japan, for a brief visit (10–12 December).
Carl Vinson steamed in the South China Sea, arriving at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines in time for Christmas Eve (12–24 December 1984). Since the Navy assigned 89 aircraft to the ship at the beginning of her deployment, she rotated a detachment of two Tomcats and a pair of Corsair IIs ashore at Cubi and at Clark AFB. The Cold War inaugurated the New Year when (6–7 January 1985) two Bear-Ds flying from the former U.S. base at Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam shadowed the ship as she made her way southward across the South China Sea toward Singapore, followed by two Bear-Ds, a pair of Bear Es/Fs, and three Badgers the next day. One of the Tu-16s conducted bombing runs in the vicinity of Catwick Shoals. Carl Vinson passed through the Strait of Malacca and entered the Indian Ocean (9–10 January). En route, she overtook a Russian Foxtrot-class submarine transiting the strait. The ship launched a Sea King to track the sub, but as the helo dropped sonobuoys the crew of a nearby Krivak-class frigate provocatively shot the buoys with small arms fire. Carl Vinson relieved Independence (CV-62) in the Indian Ocean on 18 and 19 January.
Carl Vinson operated mostly southwest of 20ºN, 60ºE, to the east of al Masirah Island, Oman, during the following weeks (19 January–12 April 1985). Although convenient for airhead supply, this operating area lay within 200 nautical miles of Iranian Lockheed P-3F Orion patrol routes, as well as the normal An-12 Cub lanes and several commercial airways. Iranian F-4Ds/Es also covered some of their Orions. These potential threats kept the crew busy and Tomcats intercepted Soviet Cubs, Mays, Ilyushin Il-62 Classics, and Il-76 Candids, along with Iranian Orions and Lockheed C-130 Hercules, 28 times — altogether 98 Russian and 16 Iranian aircraft. In all but one of the 14 instances concerning Mays an EA-3B detected the incoming aircraft at ranges in excess of 500 nautical miles. The wing also practiced contingency night strikes averaging 40 aircraft. Tomcats flew TARPS missions over the anchorage at Socotra Island, spotting two Charlie II, one Foxtrot, and one Victor-class Soviet submarines. At different times, Carl Vinson aircraft also discovered and tracked two Soviet Charlie Is and one Foxtrot underway in the vicinity of Socotra. HS-4 and VS-29 combined their hunts for the Charlie Is in a “Wolftrap” for the first boat (11–17 February), and then (3–5 March) for the second boat. The crew armed an SH-3H with four M-60 machine guns to protect against terrorist attacks and for combat search and rescue missions, and the Sea King simulated terrorist attacks by small craft and suicide planes against the group. A Soviet Balzam-class intelligence collector (SSV-80) monitored activities and trailed the ship up to the Eight Degree Channel. Carl Vinson experienced two airborne accidents. The first involved a KA-6D tanker from VA-52 with an extended refueling drogue that emergency diverted ashore to Masirah, and the second, a Corsair II that dropped its hook and hit the catapult shuttle during launching, forcing the pilot to make a hair-raising 1,200 nautical mile flight to Diego Garcia, accompanied by a KA-6D. Crewmembers requiring advanced medical care would be transferred from other ships in the group to Carl Vinson, and from there through Naval Support Activity (NSA) Diego Garcia. The Air Force’s 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron then flew them to Clark AB in the Philippines, an exhausting series of flights for patients. Carl Vinson operated with French forces (23–24 January) and with the British (27–28 January).
The ship participated in Operations Beacon Flash 85-3 and 85-4 with the Omanis (16–19 February). Omani Jaguars and Hunters again attacked the ship, fighting Tomcats, and the Americans struck Masirah and Thumrait and the range at Rubkut, while Jaguars and Rapiers attempted to shoot them down. Although the Omanis fought nobly they could not stop eight mini-strikes of six to eight aircraft each from 0700 to 1400, that the ship launched during the final evolution that swamped their defenses and (perhaps understandably) offended them. “We recommend,” the carrier’s Cruise Report noted, “that Omani desires be satisfied and a good time will be had by all.” The Omanis nonetheless proved “very easy to work with” and also qualified their Jaguar pilots of No. 20 Squadron on the KA-6 tanker package. Carl Vinson aircraft dropped 230 Mk 82 bombs, together with 28 Mk 82 FIN bombs and five Mk 83 laser-guided bomb (LGB) Is during the first exercise, and 300 Mk 82 bombs, along with three Mk 83 LGB Is and two Mk 83 LGB IIs during the second. Carl Vinson participated in Glad Warrior, an anti-ship strike exercise whereby B-52s simulated Soviet bombers attacking the carrier, on 15 March. The ship took part in Beacon Flash 85-5 (23–26 March) and then anchored off Masirah through the end of the month. Aircraft rescued the crew of an F-14A after they ejected from their Tomcat following a dual hydraulic failure during a nighttime mission on 7 April. Constellation relieved Carl Vinson on 12 April, and then the latter steamed toward Australian waters, narrowly avoiding tropical cyclone Marchgot as it swirled in a southerly direction from southwestern Sumatra. Following a visit to Fremantle (19–26 April), Carl Vinson operated with Australian forces, during which aircraft practiced live bombing runs at Lancelin Target Area, operated by sailors from HMAS Sterling (the Royal Australian Navy normally names shore establishments after ships) at Perth. The crew noted that the friendly welcome which Australians extended “has only gotten better.” The ship departed the Indian Ocean on 30 April, and then transited the Lombok Strait northbound en route to Cubi Point. She also negotiated the Makassar Strait and crossed the Java, Celebes, and Sulu Seas on her way to Philippine waters. Carl Vinson returned home on 24 May 1985, having logged interceptions of more than 100 Soviet and Iranian aircraft.
Anthony Scott, the director of the motion picture Top Gun, embarked with an eight-man crew to obtain flight deck and aerial footage for the film (9–10 October). Carl Vinson took station in a procession of more than a dozen ships to participate in Fleet Week 1985 on 12 October 1985. Passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, she fired a gun salute to Adm. James A. Lyons Jr., Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet. Later that evening Mayor Feinstein presented the City of San Francisco’s Silver Service Award to Capt. Mercer during the annual Navy Ball. Carl Vinson trained in southern Californian waters early in the New Year (22–28 March 1986). Aircraft No. 110, an F-14A manned by Lt. Richard A. Samolovitch and Cmdr. Charles F. Zullinger of VF-51, crashed while flying air combat maneuvering at 1037, at 31º40’N, 118º1’E, 44 miles from Carl Vinson, on 26 March. The Tomcat departed controlled flight and entered a flat spin. Fetch No. 614, a Sea King, recovered both men in “good shape” at 1116. The ship next participated in ReadiEx-86, a 24-day Third Fleet exercise including coordinated antisubmarine operations between the carrier and patrol squadrons flying out of NAS Moffett Field, Calif. (May–April). Vice Adm. Moranville, Commander Third Fleet, held briefings on board (3-4 April). While launching from Catapult No. 3 a VA-52 Intruder’s jet blast blew final checker AD2 Brian L. Preston of that squadron overboard portside, at 1435 on 6 April, at 27º29’9”N, 122º34’3”W, 245 nautical miles from Isla de Guadalupe. A taxiing Corsair II’s blast blew Preston behind the Intruder, that in turn thrust him over the side. O’Callahan (FF-1051) lowered a motor whaleboat that recovered the sailor, but he died on board the frigate at 1645.
Rear Adm. Edward W. Clexton Jr., Commander CarGru 3, Capt. James B. Perkins III, Commander Destroyer Squadron 9 (to coordinate antisubmarine warfare for the group), and Capt. Ronald J. Zlatoper, CAG CVW-15, embarked in Carl Vinson as she deployed for the northern and western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the North Arabian Sea on 12 August 1986. Guided missile cruisers Jouett (CG-29), Leahy (CG-16) and Vincennes (CG-49), guided missile destroyer Berkeley (DDG-15), Paul F. Foster (DD-964), guided missile frigate Gary (FFG-51), Bradley (FF-1041), Brewton (FF-1086) and Marvin Shields (FF-1066), ammunition ship Flint (AE-32), and replenishment oiler Roanoke (AOR-7) also deployed.
Carl Vinson steamed in the Bering Sea for the first time (18–22 August 1986). CVW-15 observed that Soviet surveillance and harsh weather including high winds, low clouds, and fog “tasked every aspect of carrier operations to the limit.” The ship’s Supply Department noted that the “environment required imagination to overcome both the elements and the scarcity of logistics support in the area.” Carl Vinson's aircraft flew low level missions over the Aleutian Islands. The ship just completed an underway replenishment during the afternoon watch (16 August) when a huge wave slammed into Elevator No. 1, positioned at the Hangar Bay level about 25 feet above the sea, and swept seven men overboard at 1243. The sailors were in the midst of moving aircraft up to the flight deck when they went over the side. Shipmates too far away to reach them watched helplessly as the men disappeared into the frothing maelstrom, though as soon as some of them recovered their own footing they threw smoke flares and life rings into the water. Six of the men overboard formed a compact group to assist their rescuers in the high seas; the sea pushed the seventh away from the others. Paul F. Foster could not directly recover the men in that weather and lowered her motor whaleboat. “We provided life rings to the men,” Cmdr. Raymond P. Conrad, the destroyer’s commanding officer, noted, “but the wind and seas prevented a shipboard recovery. I then decided to send the boat.” Despite the appalling conditions the craft’s crew saved the first six men and returned them to the destroyer within the hour. The survivors later returned to the carrier via helicopter. Helo No. 611, an SH-3H from HS-4, rescued the seventh man. The wave injured an eighth sailor when it smashed him against an aircraft, but thinking quickly, ABH3 Joseph Bartosz, working nearby, ran onto the elevator and clung to his injured shipmate with one hand and an aircraft tie-down fitting with the other and grimly rode out a second swell as it rolled across the elevator. Bartosz and his fellows then pulled the sailor out of harm’s way into the skin of the ship, where he successfully underwent surgery.
After the ship crossed the Northern Pacific she put into Pusan, South Korea, where she accomplished her first import replenishment from a Mobile Logistics Support Force ship. Carl Vinson's aircraft made low level runs on targets at the South Korean range at Koon-ni (1–5 September). Her aircraft next bombed the range at Tori-Shima, Japan (7–8 September). On 18 September, while under tow Aircraft No. 512, an Intruder, rolled over an Ordnanceman’s leg during a flight deck re-spot at 1405. The AO lost his leg due to the accident. By this point in the deployment, VS-29 aircraft tracked two Soviet diesel submarines. Carl Vinson transited the Strait of Malacca and entered the Indian Ocean on 29 September, and on 2 October the ship crossed the equator and her Shellbacks initiated over 3,000 Polywogs. Carl Vinson visited Diego Garcia, and conducted an opposed port breakout exercise while standing out (5–11 October). The ship anchored at Masirah, holding a “steel beach” picnic for the crew (17–21 October). The carrier cooperated with battleship Missouri (BB-63) in an over-the-horizon targeting exercise, conducting strikes in excess of 1,000 nautical miles, on 29 October. Carl Vinson anchored at Masirah (30 October–2 November), operated with the French Middle East Force (4–5 November), returned to Masirah on 7 November.
Accompanied by Leahy, Vincennes, and Roanoke, the carrier visited Mombasa (17–23 November). As Fish Eagle, a 600-passenger ferry utilized as a liberty boat, tied up alongside Carl Vinson at 2230 on 17 November, a stanchion gave way and snapped, hitting three men: AN Demetrius Embry, SN Kenneth Depew, and SN Marchk Womack. Depew suffered minor bruises and Womack a broken nose, and both men were released. Embry, however, endured a compound fracture to his jaw and fractured larynx which required him to be evacuated to an Army medical facility in West Germany for further treatment. Carl Vinson then put into Diego Garcia (29 November–7 December). Country-Western musician Loretta Lynn and her husband Oliver V. “Doo” led the 25 members of the Loretta Lynn DoD-USO Celebrity Show for a visit (6–7 December). After giving a concert that evening, they remained on board the next day as the ship stood out of her anchorage and observed flight operations. The carrier’s aircraft flew low level bombing runs against the ranges at Learmonth and Lancelin (17–18 December). Aircraft No. 312, an Intruder piloted by Lt. Kevin H. Graffis of VA-97, experienced a malfunction as its flap handle stuck in the isolation mode, causing the brakes to fail, on 29 December 1986. The A-6E skidded over the port side, at 1517 at 17º30’45”S, 108º32’E. Graffis ejected and a Sea King from HS-4 rescued him.
Carl Vinson celebrated the New Year when she crossed the equator on 2 January 1987. The ship visited Singapore (5–10 January), and then crossed the Pacific and participated in Kernal Potlach 87-1 (24–28 January) and Safe Haven on 25 January in the Bering Sea (23–28 January). En route Carl Vinson's aircraft practiced bombing at Scarborough Shoals in the Philippines on 13 January, and at Tori-Shima three days later. Despite frequent storms of ice and “blinding snow” which completely covered the flight deck, temperatures that averaged 20º to 36º F. -- and dropped to as low as 10º -- winds of up to 40 to 60 knots, and seas which sent the ship through pitching excursions of 19 feet, the crew persevered and supported amphibious and air landings at Adak and Shemya in the Aleutian Islands. The Engineering Department rigged steam hoses and lances to clear the flight deck for handling aircraft, but the ship’s historian reported that jet exhaust from Intruder’s proved the most effective way to clear snow and ice. Battle Group Charlie Northern Pacific Group received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for these grueling exercises. In addition to the bitter weather they completed these operations in “the midst of heightened and continuous Soviet air reconnaissance,” notes the citation, “as severe a test of true combat readiness as any carrier battle group had ever encountered.” More than 10,000 sailors and marines and 14 ships participated in the exercises. The ship returned from her deployment on 5 February 1987.
Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead played to a crowd packing Hanger Bay 2 on 6 March 1987. Carl Vinson got underway using tugs, emergency diesel generators, and the auxiliary boiler and proceeded to general anchorage no. 9, south of Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in the San Francisco Bay area on 23 March. She entered drydock the next day for a drydock selected restricted availability, during which workers removed and repaired all 4 screws and the no. 2 tailshaft. The ship refloated on 2 July, and undocked the following day to return to Pier 3 at Alameda under tow. The crew performed additional work through 24 August. While attempting to land during carrier qualifications in southern Californian waters, Aircraft 213, an F-14A of VF-111, went over the port side after No. 4 Purchase Cable snapped, at 1947 on 20 September, at 31º26’8”N, 117º46’8”W. Lieutenants John G. Speer and Michael D. Conn successfully ejected. Gen. Robert T. Herres, USAF, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the ship during the first dog watch to observe flight operations while she steamed off southern California on 23 September. Shortly thereafter an Intruder from VA-52 crashed near Santa Catalina Island while flying ashore overnight to NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. Cmdr. Loyd D. Sledge, the pilot, died, though the bombardier/navigator survived.
Stephen P. Coonts, a naval aviator, Vietnam veteran, and author, visited the ship during preproduction of the film adaptation of his novel Flight of the Intruder (9–10 December). While steaming in southern Californian waters (15–16 December) Carl Vinson encountered low visibility conditions during the morning watch on 16 December. Just as the ship secured from low visibility watch she received an urgent message from tank landing ship Cayuga (LST-1186) -- steaming nearby -- concerning motor vessel Explorador, which sank off Santa Barbara Island the previous day. Cayuga conducted a search and rescue for the six men believed on board the vessel, and Carl Vinson assumed on scene commander duties at 1120. She launched Aircraft Nos 614 and 615, two Alert 15 Sea Kings from HS-4 Detachment A, which spotted the survivors in the water at 1345 at 33º17’4”N, 119º11’1”W, and began rescuing James E. Alford, Jay J. Delaney, Jeffrey S. Felton, Edward E. Lopez, Bernie E. Sauls, and Gary E. Trumper, all of whom were on board by 1624.
Rear Adm. David N. Rogers, Commander CarGru 3, Capt. James H. Finney, CAG CVW-15, and Capt. William J. Flanagan Jr., Commander Destroyer Squadron 5 (Capt. Robert C. Williamson III, relieved Flanagan the next day) embarked in Carl Vinson as she deployed to the northern and Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea on 15 June 1988. The ship conducted interoperability evolutions with the Air Force in Alaskan waters, including intercepting B-52s, following which she transited the Bering Sea (21–30 June). Carl Vinson carried out a weapon exercise with Enterprise, which operated 400 nautical miles to the southwest. The weather quickly deteriorated into ice fog, fog, heavy winds, and high seas, severely testing the ship and her men. Carl Vinson's aircrew flew their aircraft with the knowledge that should the weather descend below landing minimums (a common occurrence), no divert field would be available through most of these days. The ship crossed the International Date Line westward on 26 June, and Tomcats from VF-111 intercepted eight Soviet MiG-23 Floggers on 30 June. Aircraft flying from the ship performed dissimilar air combat maneuvering with the Japanese Air Self Defense Force on 1 July. Following a brief visit to Singapore (18–20 July) the ship passed through the Strait of Malacca and entered the Indian Ocean. Carl Vinson crossed the equator on 25 July 1988, and the wing reported that the initiation ceremony rid the ship’s decks “of the pollywog scourge.”
Carl Vinson relieved Forrestal (CV-59) in the North Arabian Sea (28–31 July) and then operated with French aircraft carrier Clemenceau (R.98) in that sea (1–9 August). Fifty French crewmembers visited Carl Vinson on 7 August. Ongoing Iraqi and Iranian attacks against tankers steaming in the region threatened freedom of navigation within the Persian Gulf during the war between the two countries, and the U.S.-authorized Earnest Will to maintain the sea lanes. Initially, the Americans renamed and reflagged 11 Kuwaiti tankers, and began escorting the ships through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf to Kuwait and then returning outbound, beginning with Earnest Will Convoy No. 87001 on 22 July 1987. Aircraft launched from Carl Vinson therefore flew 63 sorties over a 12-hour period escorting Operation Earnest Will Convoy Nos 88053 and 88064 (6–5 August). The ship anchored off Masirah (3–4 September). Aircraft No. 204, an F-14A manned by Lt. Jay A. Abrams and Lt. Cmdr. Marchk A. Bruder of VF-111, spiraled out of control during air combat maneuvering at 1811 on 8 September, about 46 nautical miles from the ship at 23º16’N, 60º38’E. Abrams and Bruder ejected but Helo Nos 610 and 613 from the ship recovered both men. As the carrier steamed in the Gulf of Oman, Aircraft No. 201, a Tomcat crewed by Lt. Cmdr. Randal C. Sweeney and Lt. Michael S. Helwig of VF-111, experienced an in-flight environmental control system fire and subsequent loss of flight controls at 1355 on 26 September, at 22º16’3”N, 69º27’E. A calm sea and visibility of 10 nautical miles aided Helo No. 610, which rescued both men and had them back on board within an hour. After her aircraft flew low level missions over Somalia on 9 October, the ship broke the monotony of her voyage with a five-day visit to Mombasa, Kenya (10–15 October). Carl Vinson crossed the equator on 16 October, and two days later her aircraft again flew low level missions over Somalia. Nimitz relieved Carl Vinson in the Indian Ocean and both ships switched between the command of the Fifth and Seventh Fleets (28–29 October). The ship transited the Strait of Malacca and then turned toward the Gulf of Thailand on 1 November. High winds in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay area delayed Carl Vinson’s scheduled homecoming by a day, a frustrating blow to her crew and their families before she moored at Pier 3 at NAS Alameda (15–16 December 1988).
The ship hosted a luncheon for the American Academy of Achievement in Hanger Bay No. 2 on 24 June 1989. The guests included: Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA, Commander-in-Chief Forces Command; Brig. Gen. Charles E. Yeager, USAF (Ret.); Tom Selleck; Tom Brokaw; Tom Clancy; Oprah Winfrey; Dinah Shore; Beverly Sills; and 20 Nobel Prize laureates. While launching as the ship operated off southern California on 2 August 1989, Aircraft No. 202, a Tomcat of VF-111, suffered an in-flight fire at 1830 that caused a loss of flight hydraulics, forcing the aircrew to eject at 32º21’6”N, 118º27’3”W. A helo rescued both men approximately six miles from NAS North Island. While operating off southern Californian waters, CVW-15 assumed the role of anti-surface warfare commander for the battle group for the first time (24–29 July). Aircraft No. 106, an F-14A from VF-51, was lost at sea off San Clemente Island on 24 July, but the two crewmen ejected successfully.
Carl Vinson deployed to the northern and western Pacific (18 September–4 October 1989). Rear Adm. Daniel P. March, Commander CarGru 3, Capt. Lyle G. Bien, CAG CVW-15, and Capt. Harry M. Dyck Jr., Commander Destroyer Squadron 5, embarked. En route the ship took part in PacEx ’89 Phases II and III, an opposed transit northward to the Gulf of Alaska with Constellation and Enterprise (19–21 September). Carl Vinson's aircraft participated in a variety of exercises, including long range strikes. Upon arriving in Alaskan waters the carrier continued to conduct threat scenarios including PacEx ’89 Phase IV, an enormous joint U.S., Japanese, and South Korean exercise, a mobile sea range and missile shoot on 27 September, and Kernal Potlach on 1 October. Many crewmen commented that Phase IV comprised more vessels and aircraft than they ever witnessed operating together. In addition to the usual grueling weather that sweeps across the region, aircrew also had to contend with launching and recovering within several miles of the mountainous terrain, a dangerous endeavor under any circumstances made more so by the harsh weather. Heavy seas pounded the ship throughout her northern sojourn and at various times the crew battled flooding in the Close-in-Weapons-System (CIWS) Mount 22 equipment room, foc’sle, and several crew berthing areas. Storms also damaged the port motor whaleboat, which required extensive repairs. In addition, Carl Vinson evaluated the Navy’s Combat Rationing Plan, following which she transited out of the area and conducted “heavy” flight operations.
The ship crossed the International Date Line westbound on 6 October. Carl Vinson participated in AnnualEx 01G, Tandem Alley, and Valiant Blitz 89, a series of open ocean anti-air and anti-surface exercises, together with an opposed transit and support of amphibious operations, in Korean waters (14–21 October). Daily Soviet aerial reconnaissance flights interrupted the exercises, and at one point the Russians sent a huge simulated strike of up to 34 Badgers toward the carrier. Carl Vinson steamed as part of a formation of 48 ships, including Enterprise and battleships Missouri and New Jersey (BB-62), on 14 October. At 1704 on 17 October, a major earthquake devastated the San Francisco-Oakland Bay area, with its epicenter south-southwest of Loma Prieta Peak in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Many sailors and marines had families in the area, and concern for the safety of loved ones weighed heavily upon the men of the ship and wing, who spent anxious hours attempting to contact people at home. While the ship plowed through 12-foot seas about 600 miles north of Wake Island on Halloween, a rogue wave swept over three sailors on the port aft weather deck, at 32º37’N, 159º21’E. The unexpected swell swept DCFN Donald Evans overboard. Despite an extensive 25-hour air and sea search covering 2,000 square-miles, searchers failed to recover Evans. Carl Vinson crossed the International Date Line steaming easterly courses on 2 November. She put into the San Diego area to disembark CVW-15 (8–9 November), enabling those men to return home to visit families recovering from the earthquake. The next day the ship slid beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and moored to Pier 3 at Alameda.
A C-2A Greyhound of VRC-50 Detachment 70 supported the ship as she deployed to the western Pacific and Indian Oceans on 1 February 1990, using NAS Cubi Point as a central base of operations. The detachment also helped U.S. and Filipino relief efforts in July and August when an earthquake struck the Baguio area of Luzon. Rear Adm. Timothy W. Wright, Commander Battle Group Charlie, broke his flag from the ship during her voyage. CVW-15 began to transition to F-14Ds, F/A-18Cs, and Sikorsky SH-60F Seahawks. Carl Vinson crossed the International Date Line westbound on 19 February, and provided air support for amphibious landings, low level strikes, jamming support, and air-to-air combat training during Team Spirit 90 in Korean waters (26 February–18 March). Phase 1 began off eastern Korea, interrupted by a brief visit to Sasebo, Japan (4–6 March), before completing Phase 2. The ship passed through the Strait of Tsushima and continued around toward the South China Sea, operating en route with Midway (21–23 March), and then steamed through the Strait of Malacca into the Indian Ocean, operating with the Malaysian and Thai forces (22–23 April). Carl Vinson crossed the equator on 25 April 1990, and anchored at Diego Garcia (30 April–1 May). The ship operated in the North Arabian Sea with Combined Joint Task Force Middle East (5 May–1 June). She conducted a variety of exercises, twice anchoring off Masirah (13–14 and 24–25 May), and also trained with the Omanis and with British destroyer Cardiff (D.108). The ship visited Fremantle (12–18 June), and on 21 June sailed by northerly courses through the Lombok Strait.
Carl Vinson transited the Sibutu Passage between the Sulu Archipelago and Borneo northbound (24–25 June), and the following day Capt. John F. Sussilleaux relieved Capt. Dyck in a ceremony on board Knox. The ship participated in a HarpoonEx and in Sea Slam 90 (27–28 June). Foul weather plagued Carl Vinson throughout the exercises as Typhoon Ophelia plowed through the area just ahead of the ship and Typhoon Percy slammed heavy seas and winds into her as the carrier began the exercise, forcing her to cut short the two-day event and cram all of the live missile firings into a single day. Oldendorf (DD-972), forward-deployed to Japanese waters, a Lockheed P-3C Orion from patrol squadron (VP) 9, and Marine All-Weather Attack Squadron (VMA(AW)-533 also participated in the tests, which consisted of firing multiple RGM-84 Harpoons -- including one by a USMC Intruder -- an AGM-45 Shrike, an AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), an AGM-62 Walleye II, and four LGBs against an aging utility landing craft fitted with threat emitters as radar simulators and under tow by fleet ocean tug Sioux (ATF-171). The carrier crossed the International Date Line eastbound on 19 July, and returned home on 31 July 1990.
Carl Vinson shifted home ports from Alameda to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., for a complex overhaul (15–22 September). En route, she moored at Naval Weapons Station, Indian Island, Wash., and off-loaded 2,900 tons of ammunition (17–22 September). Project Noah’s Ark moved dependents and personal property including vehicles that crowded the flight deck, and gave family members a glimpse of life on board. The ship moored to Pier 3 upon arriving at Bremerton. The ship completed most of her $300 million complex overhaul in Drydock No. 6 at Puget Sound, beginning on 29 September. To enable crewmembers (relatively) safe and clean berthing, the Navy made available unclassified vessel (ex-transport) General Hugh J. Gaffey (IX-507) to over 2,000 men. Two berthing barges, YFN-1223 and YRBM-20, also supported Carl Vinson. The ship reconfigured to accommodate F-14D Tomcats, F/A-18C Block 14 Hornets, S-3B Vikings, and HH-60 and SH-60F Seahawks. The installation of the Mk 57 Mod 3 NATO Sea Sparrow, Mk 15 Close-in-Weapons-System (CIWS), 10 .50 Cal. machine gun mounts, and AN/SLQ-32 (V)4 electrical support and countermeasures, further enhanced her capabilities. In addition to a number of shore facilities, destroyer tender Samuel Gompers (AD-37) supported the overhaul. The ship reciprocated by dispatching detachments to support Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm/Desert Sabre, Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and Nimitz, Missouri, hospital ship Mercy (T-AH-19), ocean minesweeper Pledge (MSO-492), VA-52 during Red Flag opposition force exercises at Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Nev., CVWR-30 at NAS Fallon, Nev., Roving Sands 92 at Roswell, N.M., and VA-304 during training at Naval Weapons Center China Lake, Calif. These detachments provided useful training for the crewmembers involved, who honed skills they otherwise could not use during the overhaul. Carl Vinson floated from Drydock No. 6 and shifted berths back to Pier 3, while General Hugh J. Gaffey, YFN-1223 and YRBM-20 shifted berths to Piers 3 and 4 (15–18 November). On 18 February 1992, the crew began transferring back to the ship from General Hugh J. Gaffey.
FN Billy Self of the ship’s Chemical Warfare Division saved a fellow American’s life in Yakima, Wash., on 29 August 1992. Self and his wife Tara had returned from their wedding reception to a hotel room when they overheard a fight in the adjacent room. Suddenly, an agonized voice cried out for help — the person’s brother was dying and no one in the vicinity knew cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Self’s wife summoned help while the fireman, a former lifeguard, responded. As he opened the door, he discovered a group of about a half dozen people, two of them covered with blood. During an argument concerning two gallons of tequila, a brother-in-law had drawn a butcher knife and slashed one of two other brothers on his face and arms and stabbed him in the chest and back. “There was blood everywhere,” Self explained later, “I told them to back away and checked for a pulse then looked for lacerations. There was no pulse so I started CPR.” Self’s knowledge and actions saved the man’s life.
The carrier’s marine detachment assumed her security mission, including brow and response forces, on 25 November 1992. The consolidation of Marine Security Force battalions globally resulted in the detachment shifting its administrative chain of command from the Pacific to Atlantic Fleets. In addition, the Navy-Marine Corps paper …From The Sea defined the strategic concept intended to carry the Naval Service beyond the Cold War and into the 21st century. This doctrine assigned further Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS), maritime interception, Tactical Rescue of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP), FIM-92 Stinger close in man-portable air defense, and embassy/consulate reinforcement/evacuation missions to the marines, so they began field training at Fort Lewis, Wash., Fort Ord and Marche Island Naval Shipyard, both in Calif., and in the Norfolk area. The revised organization dropped the detachment from two officers and 66 enlisted marines to two officers and 46 enlisted. Carl Vinson completed sea trials (1–7 April 1993), and then (13–15 April) conducted Noah’s Ark in reverse as she returned to Alameda. In addition to the crew, several hundred dependents, 700 automobiles, 35 motorcycles, 10 trailers, and one recreational vehicle packed on board for the journey. A huge crowd including fireboats and aircraft flyovers greeted the carrier upon her arrival, and CNN vied with media to cover the event.
While the ship served as a qualifying platform for fleet replacement squadrons in southern Californian waters (26 May–2 June 1993), Vice Adm. Leighton W. Smith Jr., and Russian Vice Adm. Aleksander Gorbunov led a joint U.S.-Russian Incident at Sea Delegation on board to observe flight operations, during the evening of 26 May. Lt. Shannon L. Workman performed her initial carrier qualifications (26–28 May). On 21 February 1994, Workman had become the Navy’s first female combat pilot to pass successfully fleet carrier qualifications, embarking with VAQ-130 in Dwight D. Eisenhower that October. Carl Vinson sailed north along the Pacific coast in company with Arkansas (CGN-41) and Antietam (CG-54), Asheville (SSN-758), fast combat support ship Camden (AOE-2), and Coast Guard cutter Munro (WHEC-724) before putting into Indian Head (23 July–6 August). Over 1,600 guests boarded on the morning of 28 July for the Seattle Seafair. The crew provided tours, static aircraft displays, and musical entertainment for more than 22,000 visitors who thronged the carrier during the fair before she stood out of Puget Sound on 2 August. The ship moored at Indian Head en route her return to load weapons (2–3 August).
President William J. Clinton spoke to a crowd of more than 3,000 sailors and civilians on Pier 3 before the ship at Alameda concerning the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) program, on 13 August 1993. Because of security considerations, the Navy gave the crew only 72 hours to prepare for the chief executive’s visit. Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton, Under Secretary of the Army John W. Shannon, Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, and Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also comprised the Presidential entourage. Following his speech and a brief visit to Arkansas, the President boarded Carl Vinson and inspected the carrier, from 1200 to 1330. Sailors lined four-deep in the hanger bay to shake hands with President Clinton, take his photograph, or to simply to catch a glimpse of the man. The chief executive spent a leisurely 20 minutes traversing the bay and greeting the crowd, before dining in Wardroom No. 3 with nearly 50 crewmembers from Carl Vinson, Arkansas, replenishment oiler Kansas City (AOR-3), and NAS Alameda. Upon completing the meal, the President slowly made his way back to the quarterdeck, “shaking every hand offered,” before pausing on the pier for a photo opportunity with sailors from his home state of Arkansas.
While checking the forward bearing temperature of fleet replenishment oiler John Ericsson (T-AO-194)’s power take-off unit, chief engineer Eugene Scheller lost his balance at about 1430 on 30 August, and the unit’s rotating machinery drew his right hand and lower arm into the equipment, all but severing his thumb and fingers. The sea was choppy, with eyewitnesses describing the swells as “pretty high,” pounding the ship -- then about 300 miles out to sea off the west coast -- with heavy rolls. With time of the essence, the Navy dispatched a Greyhound from North Island out to Carl Vinson as she returned from two weeks of routine flight operations. Though almost 500 miles from the oiler, the carrier responded to the international law of the sea for those in distress. “We’re the only ship in the vicinity, and this man needs our help,” Capt. John S. Payne told the crew. “As sailors, it’s our duty to go to the aid of a fellow Mariner.” A USCG Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk commanded by Cmdr. Mike Hardie, USCG, the executive officer of Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, flew out and landed on board Carl Vinson two hours later to embark Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey R. Brinker, MC, the carrier’s chief medical officer, and to refuel. The Jayhawk then continued on to the oiler, at that point some 315 miles away as the carrier raced to close the distance. When the helo arrived over John Ericsson at dusk, the sea became so rough that the crew considered landing on the pitching deck in the gathering darkness to be unacceptably risky, so Brinker courageously agreed to have them lower him on a hoist. “I elected to go down because of the seriousness of the injury,” he later explained…“If we were going to save his arm and hand, we needed to maintain a blood supply.” Brinker quickly assessed the situation and “packaged” the chief engineer for the flight, and the Jayhawk hoisted the patient aloft. Recovering on board Carl Vinson from astern during the first watch, the crew evacuated Scheller via the Greyhound to North Island. Sailors rushed him to the Naval Hospital at Balboa, where surgeons reattached some of his missing fingers. While Scheller lost his middle finger, the prompt action by his shipmates saved his arm. “He’s very lucky considering how far they [John Ericsson] were,” Brinker said of the extraordinary rescue. “We got him to the hospital about 16 hours after the accident and saved most of his hand and arm.”
The ship operated with the Peleliu (LHA-5) Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in FleetEx 94-1A off the West Coast (26 October–7 November). The two groups incorporated their operations to mutually support each other, the first time that they did so together. The scenario converted the Camp Pendleton area into a foreign country fragmented by terrorists and disparate factions, trapping Americans ashore. “We’ve just had some more bombs blow up,” Capt. Mike Ramos, USMC, noted as he peered at an operations chart. “We’re still finalizing the evacuation plan, but it looks like we’ll want some extensive air cover,” thus beginning the key phase of the exercise involving the carrier. USMC Bell AH-1W/T Super Cobras and UH-1N Hueys and Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions flew in to secure a landing zone, from which Boeing CH-46E Sea Knights began evacuating people escaping the “terrorists.” The “ambassador” and his staff interrupted operations by notifying rescuers of evacuees and crises ashore, emphasizing a realistic simulation of a country descending into chaos and the urgency of rescuing people trapped within it. Hawkeyes from Carl Vinson surveyed the fluid battles and provided command-and-control; Tomcats covered the helos while USMC AV-8B Harrier IIs from VMA-214 and helicopter gunships flew close air support against militants firing surface-to-air missiles at evacuating helos.
A film crew from the Discovery Channel embarked to prepare Carrier: Fortress At Sea, a documentary of the ship and her operations narrated by actor Martin Sheen (11–18 January and 17 February–14 March 1994). CVW-14 sailed with F-14D Tomcats, F/A-18C Block 14 Hornets, E-2C Group II Hawkeyes, Improved Capability (ICAP) II/Block 86 EA-6B Prowlers, S-3B Vikings, and HH-60H and SH-60F Seahawks for the first time on board Carl Vinson during the ship’s deployment to the western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf. She also deployed with the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS). Antietam, Arkansas, Asheville and Camden sailed with Carl Vinson from west coast ports, while Reuben James (FFG-57) and Buffalo (SSN-715) later stood out of Pearl Harbor and rendezvoused with the group in Hawaiian waters. Shortly before 1400 on 22 February, as the ship steamed toward Oahu, still about 1,400 miles distant to the west, an F-14D crewed by Lieutenants Richard H. Lucas and Jeffrey W. Strobel of VF-11, launched and began flying simulated attack patterns back and forth across Carl Vinson’s intended course, to enable her radar operators to track them. As they approached the carrier from her stern at 2,000 feet about a half hour into their flight the right engine stalled and a moment later burst into flames. The two men experienced “a big thump,” Strobel recalled, “and the jet shook like it shouldn’t have.” Lt. Cmdr. Bob Frantz, from his vantage point in the ship’s control tower, observed that the Tomcat emitted “a puff of smoke followed by a trail of flame” as the F-14D raced past the carrier’s port side. With the fire blazing out of control, the men had no other alternative, and Lucas shouted “Eject! Eject! Eject!” At this point, crewmen described the Tomcat as “a flaming ball of fire.” An SH-60F manned by Lt. Cmdr. William A. Kuhns Jr., Lt. Kevin P. Lenox, crewman John Guarriello and rescue swimmer Robert Binczak of HS-8, responded promptly and the Seahawk’s crew waited for the aviators to descend in their parachutes before hoisting them out of the six to eight foot swells. Thousands of angry protestors opposed to nuclear weapons and propulsion and to U.S. forces deployed to Japan met the ship upon her arrival at Yokosuka on 11 March.
Carl Vinson trained with Japanese naval forces, during which time she relieved Independence in the western Pacific (14–19 March). She transited the Strait of Malacca westbound on 13 April, and three days later sailed through the Strait of Hormuz and entered the Arabian Gulf, the first time that she sailed in that body of water and supported Operation Southern Watch. The UN established a no-fly zone along the 32nd parallel after the Iraqis renewed attacks against Shiite Muslims in August 1992, and the coalition began patrolling this no-fly zone. Rear Adm. Vernon E. Clark, Commander Carl Vinson Battle Group, described the group’s mission as to “maintain the peace and be a force for deterrence.” Aircraft flew numerous sorties enforcing the UN resolutions, and in addition, the ship’s marines performed eight permissive VBSS operations against foreign-flagged ships. At times the marines also manned machine guns positions on board, and served in combat search and rescue flights with HS-8 as marksmen and as a designated assist team. The Operations Department developed expendable mobile acoustic training target operations to assist commands conducting anti-submarine operations in the region. They also provided extensive weather forecasting to a variety of commands in the area, and installed a battle group cellular telephone system. The ongoing threat posed by mines in the Gulf led the Deck and Weapons Departments to stand round-the-clock mine watches. The ship passed through the Strait of Hormuz eastbound on 19 June. The group queried as many as 300 ships suspected of smuggling and boarded 24 of them while deployed to the Arabian Gulf.
Carl Vinson crossed the equator on 26 June 1994. The carrier anchored at Fremantle (5–9 July), but foul weather broke several mooring cleats at the stern barge, which had to be re-welded. Continuing around Australia the ship sailed up the Derwent River into Hobart, Tasmania, her first visit to that port (17–22 July). This time the weather cooperated and provided a calm visit. Nonetheless, Australian legislative action kept shops closed during the ship’s visit because of Sunday trading laws, which generated controversy among local media, but the Australians welcomed the crew with open arms. “At this stage,” Rear Adm. Clark observed, “there are more people wanting sailors to come into their homes than we have sailors.” Some of Carl Vinson’s aircraft flew over the city to bid farewell to her hosts as the ship stood out.
Carl Vinson offloaded her weapons to ammunition ship Shasta (AE-33) (31 July–1 August). A crew from the Discovery Channel embarked at Pearl Harbor to film the Tiger (over 900 male dependent’s) Cruise to Alameda (4–17 August). During her deployment the 264 embarked Naval Aviators flew 7,535 sorties, 1,243 of them during Southern Watch, and fired or dropped 203,500 pieces of ordnance ranging from rounds to bombs and missiles.
While the ship conducted student carrier qualifications off southern Californian waters, Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) T-45As made their first Goshawk qualifications on board Carl Vinson (22–29 September). The Air Department ran “mixed patterns” consisting of Goshawks and TA-4 Skyhawks. The students completed 577 traps. Carl Vinson completed Ship’s Restricted Availability 95 (17 October 1994–17 February 1995). This program uniquely included working with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the first such off-site availability for the ship. At various times during the year, the ship’s marines conducted boarding training with ships preserved at nearby Suison Bay, and with HS-4 for heliborne fast rope insertion. On 3 January 1995, Mayor Ralph Appezzatto of Alameda awarded AN Warren Pribula a citation for the senior airman’s apprehension of a drug suspect. The BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missile [TLAM] Afloat Planning System was also installed. Following her yard work, the ship completed sea trials (21–26 February 1995). Captains Alan L. Bean, Charles Conrad Jr., and Richard F. Gordon Jr., and their wives embarked overnight (21–22 April). The three men comprised the all-Naval Aviator crew of Apollo XII (14–24 November 1969) that orbited and landed upon the moon. “Old Reliable,” Aircraft No. 66, a Sea King (BuNo 152711) manned by Cmdr. Warren E. Aut, Lt. (j.g.) Glenn A. Casey, AWHC Kenny V. Cunningham, and AWH2 Abram R. Dominguez from HS-4 embarked on board antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier Hornet (CVS-12), recovered the three astronauts following their splashdown about 350 nautical miles southeast of Samoa.
The ship conducted a family day sail on 12 May 1995, which proved unique from other such events in that she hosted over 9,000 guests, a record number of visitors for her to date. Rough weather did not deter the crowd, who reached such record numbers in large measure due to the pending disestablishment of NAS Alameda and the transfer of the ship elsewhere, which placed additional stress on crewmen who had to move families. High winds and rain made her return memorable as well. Winds gusted out of the southwest at 40 knots and the weather challenged the pilot to keep Carl Vinson parallel to the pier at Alameda. With barely a foot to go a worker suggested that she should breast out from the pier an additional 15 feet, which proved to be a mistake when even four commercial tugs could not correct the mighty vessel’s progress in the choppy swells. The ship contacted the forward camel and crushed pier pilings, snapping half of the section completely into two pieces before watchstanders could correct the error. When she moored frustrated guests moved hurriedly ashore.
At about 1015 on 17 May 1995, an F/A-18D crewed by Rear Adm. James G. Prout III, Commander Carl Vinson Battle Group, and Cmdr. Joseph G. Kleefisch, the commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 25, disappeared from a second Hornet’s radar and radio contact during a training flight from NAS Lemoore, Calif., to St. Louis, Mo., with a scheduled refueling stop at Buckley Air National Guard Base near Denver, Colo. Inclement weather forced the men to fly an instrument flight rules route and they then decided to alter that route and climb above the clouds when the loss occurred over northern New Mexico, 50 to 60 miles north-northwest of Santa Fe. Low clouds and rain hampered searchers at lower altitudes, and snow falling above 7,500 feet impeded efforts higher up. The Air Force diverted a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, and at 1300 launched a Sikorsky H-53 Super Jolly Green Giant, both from the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland AFB near Albuquerque, to assist in the search. The other Hornet landed safely at 1130 at Buckley. At about 0930 the following day a USAF MH-53J Pave Low III discovered the Hornet’s wreckage at about 9,700 feet, strewn across three miles of Mogote Ridge, a rugged peak east of Canjilon. Prout’s shipmates described him as being “on the fast track,” and the Navy had just selected the accomplished leader for promotion before he died. “I found him to be one of the finest naval officers I ever worked for,” Capt. Larry C. Baucom, the ship’s commanding officer, later reflected, adding that the admiral was fair and “extremely personable.”
Carl Vinson took part in the 50th anniversary commemoration of the end of WWII (18 August–13 September 1995). The ship embarked 12 vintage WWII “Warbird” aircraft on 18 August: Heavenly Body, In The Mood and Pacific Princess, a trio of North American B-25J Mitchells (Serial Nos 43-28204, 44-29199 and 44-30832), later variant of the earlier model Mitchells that Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, led off aircraft carrier Hornet (CV-8) to attack the Japanese on 18 April 1942; two Corsairs – a Goodyear FG-1D (BuNo 88303) and a Vought F4U-5N (BuNo 124486); an Eastern FM-2 Wildcat (BuNo 86819); a Grumman HU-16C (UF-1) Albatross (BuNo 131911); a couple of Grumman Gooses – a JRF-4 (BuNo 35921) and a JRF-5 (BuNo 87732); a North American SNJ-5 Texan (BuNo 90623); and a pair of Eastern TBM-3E Avengers (BuNos 53818 and 91453). Some of the younger crewmen commented that they felt apprehensive around so many whirling propellers simultaneously, as they normally only operated with a handful of Greyhounds and Hawkeyes, and jets comprised most embarked aircraft. During the voyage they secured all but the Albatross below in the Hangar Deck, enabling the carrier to complete flight operations.
Carl Vinson stood out from Alameda for Hawaiian waters three days later. En route, the carrier participated in Exercise Ke Koa [The Warrior] 95, with Canadian frigate Annapolis (DDH.265) reinforcing the Americans. While steaming off Waikiki Beach on Oahu on 29 August, the ship launched 10 of the Warbirds (Avenger No. 91453 damaged its propeller and R-2600 engine during take-off trials and remained as a static display, and the Albatross stayed on board temporarily) to NAS Barbers Point as a commercial tug pushed her starboard side to assist the carrier in maintaining station, then she put into Pearl Harbor. Vice Adm. Robert J. Spane, Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific Fleet, also embarked to observe the fly-off. The Ground Support Equipment Division utilized an A/S32A-35 crash crane to replace the propeller of the Wildcat and some sailors deployed to Ford Island to assist with staging the historical aircraft. Carl Vinson became the reviewing platform for the International Parade of Ships on 2 September. Stretching for over three-miles, the formation of 17 vessels included Arkansas, John S. McCain (DDG-56), Crommelin (FFG-37), Annapolis, Russian guided missile destroyer Udaloy (Type 1155; which also participated with a pair of Russian vessels in Cooperation from the Sea, a disaster relief exercise between the Americans and Russians), and a Russian Ropucha II (Type 775M) class tank landing ship. Hundreds of sailors and marines packed Carl Vinson’s flight deck to watch the display.
President and Mrs. Clinton stood in a misting rain at the Punchbowl–National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific with a crowd of WWII veterans and their families estimated at 10,000 to honor the 33,143 veterans buried there, where the President delivered his speech “A Grateful Nation Remembers…” He and the first lady then embarked in Carl Vinson with an entourage that included Secretary of the Navy Dalton; Gen. John M.D. Shailikashvili, USA, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, CNO; Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown; Adm. Zlatoper; Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon; and 2,000 veterans. Carl Vinson provided national level command, and control for the chief executive during his visit. The President and his wife dropped a wreath into the sea in memory of the veterans of the war, and he and Runyon unveiled a stamp series commemorating WWII. The postal service marked the special edition stamps entitled “1945: Victory at last” with “first day of issue,” making them collector’s items, and sold over $10,000 worth the first day. The chief executive ate lunch with selected WWII veterans and crewmen, and later that evening the ship hosted a dance in the hangar bay, where Secretary Dalton presented Carl Vinson, Cruiser Destroyer Group 3, and CVW-14 with a Meritorious Unit Commendation for supporting the commemoration. The Clintons then went ashore to drop red anthuriums at the Arizona (BB-39) Memorial at Battleship Row at Ford Island, after which they reviewed a parade of veterans through Waikiki. The day’s activities included shows by teams from the different services, including the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels). Carl Vinson also hosted about 8,000 visitors during VJ Day (Victory over Japan) activities on 4 September.
In October 1995, the Navy announced that it awarded the Navy Achievement Medal to AB3 Torrance Gardner of V-3 Division -- that fueled Carl Vinson’s fighters -- who valiantly extinguished a fire in Hangar Bay No. 2. The ship meanwhile loaded seven WWII Warbirds, including Tootsie, a B-25J Mitchell (5–8 October). Embarking approximately 350 guests overnight, Carl Vinson stood out of the Bay Area, launching six of the vintage aircraft the next day as she passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and entered the Pacific. As she returned on 7 October, the carrier launched and recovered two Hornets, two Tomcats and a Viking, the latter within San Francisco Bay, as the lead ship in a pass in review of 11 ships including U.S. “Liberty Ship” Jeremiah O’Brien and Mexican gunship Brigadier Jose Marchia De La Vega Gonzalez (C.03). After mooring, Carl Vinson hosted over 6,000 visitors the following day for Fleet Week ‘95.
Carl Vinson, with CVW-14 embarked, deployed to the western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf (14 May–14 November 1996). She crossed the International Date Line westbound on 24 May, and four days later participated in ASWEx 96-5, a primarily an anti-submarine exercise with the Japanese. Following a brief visit to Singapore (17–20 June), Carl Vinson transited the Karimata Strait – between Borneo and Sumatra (Belitung Island) – southbound on 22 June. The next day she passed through the Sunda Strait – between Sumatra and Java – westbound. The ship and the Indonesians performed air shows for each other. Carl Vinson crossed the equator on 25 June 1996, passed through the Strait of Hormuz and entered the Arabian Gulf on 1 July, and then (5–9 July) supported Operation Southern Watch for the first time during this deployment. Carl Vinson took part in Rugged Nautilus 96, a short notice exercise designed to respond to heightened threats resulting from tensions with the Iranians, and from terrorist threats against the XXVI Olympiad held at Atlanta, Ga. (18–25 July). The ship established secure connectivity to direct the movements of nearly 13,000 people and over 100 aircraft operating at sea and within six different nations in the area. CVW-14 aircraft flew 1,496 sorties and 3,263 flight hours during Rugged Nautilus 96, including 184 “surge” sorties within a 24-hour period. She steamed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Sea on 16 August, and anchored at Muscat in Oman (17–20 August). Her visit became a controversial one documented by the media as it provoked protests from Muslim extremists in the region, who resented her presence as an extension of American power. The ship returned to the Arabian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz on 22 August.
Saddam Hussein deployed an estimated 40,000 Iraqi Republican Guardsmen and regulars against Irbil, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan town 48 miles east of Mosul, Iraq, on 31 August 1996. On 3 September the United States launched Operation Desert Strike in retaliation against Hussein’s aggression — and against his targeting of coalition aircraft patrolling the northern and southern “no-fly zones.” Desert Strike attacked Iraqi fixed surface-to-air missile sites and air defense command and control facilities in southern Iraq. Shiloh (CG-67) and Laboon (DDG-58) fired 14 of 27 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched in the first wave. Four Grumman F-14D Tomcats of Fighter Squadron (VF) 11, embarked on board Carl Vinson, escorted two USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortresses that staged through Guam and launched 13 AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missiles against the Iraqi forces. California (CGN-36) served as the air warfare commander.
The following day, Laboon and Russell (DDG-59), destroyer Hewitt (DD-966), and Jefferson City fired 17 more TLAMs — Jefferson City fired two of the missiles. Furthermore, the coalition extended the no-fly zone northward to the 33rd parallel, requiring pilots to fly additional sorties to enforce the extension.A P-3C Orion of VP-1 operated in the area forward deployed through Naval Air Facility Diego Garcia. In addition, Enterprise received notification of deployment to the North Arabian Sea a month ahead of her scheduled voyage. On 12 September she received orders to support Desert Strike and sprinted from the Adriatic Sea, reaching the Red Sea seven days later. Hussein subsequently withdrew his troops.
Carl Vinson left the Arabian Gulf when she sailed through the Strait of Hormuz on 2 October 1996. Aircraft flew a total of 1,893 sorties and 5,183 flight hours supporting Southern Watch. The carrier served as the Task Group Electronic Warfare Control Ship, and intercepted, analyzed, and identified over 126 unique emitters. Operating in the intense heat of the region wore on crewmembers and vessels alike, and the ship’s Repair Division (R-1) repaired over 125 air conditioning boundary doors. In addition, while the ship steamed in the Arabian Gulf she participated in Operation Vigilant Sentinel, coordinating over 200 maritime interception queries and 128 actual boardings and inspections – including 10 diversions – of ships suspected of violating UN sanctions against the Iraqis. The carrier returned to Hobart (20–24 October), and then (30 October–1 November) simultaneously crossed the equator and the International Date Line eastbound, making all participants Golden Shellbacks. Following her return, the ship completed a $110 million planned incremental availability at Bremerton (12 January–12 September 1997). During the first couple of months of the year the ship had to share facilities with Nimitz, which completed her own extended ship’s restricted availability at Bremerton.
As AOC Matthew Scott of the Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department drove along Washington State Highway 20 approaching Deception Pass Bridge -- while he returned to NAS Whidbey Island -- at around 2300 on 28 August, he noticed Starrena Cheatwood, a teenage girl, and a pair of young men, desperately flagging him down. The trio described their terrifying ordeal: their pickup truck passed through a wooden guardrail and plunged 185 feet down into the dark waters of Puget Sound. The three jumped clear, but a fourth person, Lesli Lancaster, the teen driver, proved unable to extricate herself in time. Clinching a flashlight between his teeth, Scott clambered down the steep embankment and dove into the water. “It literally took my breath away,” he said later, referring to the frigid sound. Fighting the bitter cold he swam to the scene, where a second man, Chad Heiserman of Oak Harbor on the island, joined him. Together they freed Lancaster and tended to her injuries, Scott utilizing his first aid training as a damage control repair party leader. A rescue boat arrived and they placed Lancaster on board, sheltering her from the harsh wind as they rode back. “She would not have gotten out of the water,” Robert Smith, a communications officer with the Washington State Patrol in Everett, explained, “without the man’s help.” Carl Vinson completed sea trials (5–10 September).
The activities of a Russian Oscar II class submarine meanwhile caused media debate concerning the survivability of aircraft carriers against modern subs (21–30 September 1997). The Oscar II loitered in Pacific Northwest waters shadowing ships entering and leaving the area, including Carl Vinson, which conducted flight deck qualifications underway during this period, Constellation, and Nimitz, apparently trailing the latter despite the carrier’s high speed attempt to elude her stalker. “It’s not a regular practice,” Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen declared during an interview in November, “but it’s not unprecedented, either.” The Russians seemingly maneuvered to within SSN-19 Shipwreck (P-700 3M-45 Granat) cruise missile range of the carriers on at least one occasion. In addition, naval aviation across the fleet conducted an unrelated global safety stand-down on 23 September. While Carl Vinson steamed in Pacific Northwest waters on 13 November, a fire burned down most of Kona Village, an apartment complex near Bremerton where many crewmembers lived. Fellow crewmembers and the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society assisted sailors displaced by the conflagration. As the ship’s marine detachment disestablished during the New Year (1 January–31 December 1998), her last seven marines transferred ashore to the Second Fleet’s Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) Company at Yorktown, Va.
The carrier participated in JTFEx 98-2/FleetEx 98-2 in the eastern Pacific (5 July–5 August 1998). Carl Vinson put into Pearl Harbor (6–9 July and 2–5 August). She spent most of the period, however, taking part in the additional exercise of RimPac ’98 in the Hawaiian Operations Area, comprising the work-up phase (10–23 July) and the tactical phase (24 July–1 August). At least 52 participating American, Australian, Canadian, Chilean, Japanese, and South Korean ships and submarines, 200 aircraft, and 25,000 sailors and marines took part. Australian replenishment tanker Success (OR.304) supplied the carrier. Following Missouri’s shift of berths from the Pacific Northwest to Pearl Harbor, Carl Vinson crewmembers helped paint and preserve the battleship in preparation for her retention as a national memorial.
Rear Adm. Alfred G. Harms Jr., Commander CarGru 3, broke his flag in Carl Vinson when she deployed to the western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf (6 November 1998–6 May 1999). Antietam and Princeton (CG-59), Fitzgerald (DDG-62), Oldendorf, McClusky (FFG-41), and Columbus (SSN-762) and Pasadena (SSN-752) sailed with the carrier. Carl Vinson also deployed for the first time with a Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, which enabled at least 40 patients that would have transferred ashore to remain with the ship. Navy-wide recruiting shortfalls, however, impacted the ship and she deployed with approximately 300 sailors fewer than her intended complement. “We’d like to have those 300 people,” Capt. David M. Crocker, the ship’s commanding officer, explained, “it provides us with some cushion in case somebody gets sick or there’s an emergency, and by not having them you lose some of that cushion…We wouldn’t be going if we weren’t ready.” Some 73 aircraft embarked with CVW-11, including about 45 fighter and strike types. Carl Vinson crossed the International Date Line westbound on 21 November.
The coalition launched Operation Desert Fox against the Iraqis in response to Saddam Hussein’s failure to comply with UN resolutions to allow international inspections of sites housing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs (16–20 December 1998). Allied aircraft flew more than 650 strike and strike support sorties. Ten vessels fired 330 TLAMs, and B-52H Stratofortresses launched over 90 AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missiles. These attacks eviscerated Iraqi air defense and early warning systems, airfields, command and control, communications, and presidential sites (palaces) and facilities housing Special Republican Guard and Republican Guard security details for weapons of mass destruction. The campaign continued the ongoing disruption of the weapons of mass destruction program caused by sanctions, inspections, and air and missile strikes; temporarily crippled the Republican Guard infrastructure; and impeded a plan to convert Aero L-29 Delphin trainers into unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying biological or nerve agents. The allies did not lose any aircraft.
The Navy originally intended for Carl Vinson to complete her deployment with routine port visits to Hong Kong and Singapore, together with possible visits to Australian ports, before continuing into the Indian Ocean to support Southern Watch. The ship visited Singapore (7–12 December) en route, and shortly after the ship sailed from the port -- during a monsoon with near zero visibility -- she received orders to make best speed to the Arabian Gulf, a voyage of almost 3,800 miles. “The course has been altered,” Cmdr. David M. Koontz, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces Pacific Fleet, announced. “There will be no port visits in Australia,” a heavy blow to sailors anticipating the liberty calls. Passing through the Strait of Malacca at an average speed of 30 knots she sped cross the Indian Ocean, transited the Strait of Hormuz, and arrived in the Arabian Gulf overnight (18–19 December).
“What has changed,” Rear Adm. Harms observed, “is that every single mission we’re [conducting] over there, Saddam Hussein is shooting at our forces.” CVW-11 aircraft pounded nearly 50 targets in a half dozen Iraqi military sites in the southern part of the country in 14 strikes, using about 20 precision-guided and 60 laser-guided munitions. Princeton and Fitzgerald added to the crescendo of destruction by firing TLAMs at the recalcitrant Iraqis. The ship’s Intelligence Team developed their first Automated Debriefing Database, as well as a Bomb Hit Assessment system that streamlined the targeting and evaluation process. The assessment proved invaluable by displaying to aircrew their forward looking infrared and weapons system video, as assigned targets consistently required updating in the rapidly changing battle. As the ship sailed into harm’s way her sailors' families became more concerned for the welfare of their loved ones. “It’s a difficult time for them,” Rear Adm. William D. Center, Commander Naval Surface Group Pacific Northwest, noted. “It’s tough enough to have their family members gone during the holidays. There is an element of risk.” The Telecommunications Division (CS-1) established a three-way video teleconference between the Fifth Fleet, Carl Vinson, and British aircraft carrier Invincible (R.05). The ship spent Christmas anchored at Bahrain. Carl Vinson’s swift arrival allowed Enterprise, which took part in the initial strikes of Desert Fox, to come about for home after several days “to allow things to cool down,” on 2 January 1999.
Two Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbats dipped into the No-Fly Zone southeast of Baghdad at about 2315 on 5 January 1999, compelling a pair of F-14Ds from VF-213 to engage them. The Tomcats chased the Foxbats and fired AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles at the Iraqis, who fled back into their own airspace outside the zone. Another pair of Foxbats had attempted the same tactic with two USAF McDonnell Douglas F-15Cs about 15 minutes earlier some 60 miles away. The Eagles fired four air-to-air missiles at the escaping MiGs. One of the MiGs from those battles purportedly crashed when it ran out of fuel. Iraqi MiG-23s and F.1 Mirages also flew suspicious patterns during that clash. Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, USMC, Commander-in-Chief Central Command, referred to the episode as Hussein’s “desperate attempt…to claim some sort of victory” following Desert Fox. A couple of Hornets and two Tomcats patrolling the No-Fly Zone detected a pair of MiG-21s darting in and out of restricted airspace and chased them off, on 23 January. Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery gunners opened up on the Americans, who topped off the engagement by dropping laser-guided bombs on two surface-to-air missile sites that began targeting them with their acquisition radars. American aircraft clashed almost daily with Iraqi air defense troops during this period, though they usually knocked-out those guns, radar, and missiles, and the Iraqis began to shift their batteries out of the zone into central Iraq to preserve their dwindling forces. Two Hornets and a pair of Tomcats attacked a CSSC-3 battery when the Iraqis secretly attempted to deploy the anti-ship cruise missiles along the al-Faw Peninsula, near the Shatt a-Arab waterway, on 2 February. The Pentagon revealed that the Iraqis emplaced the weapons to threaten ships, especially tankers, sailing in Kuwaiti coastal waters. Almost simultaneously, USAF and USMC jets patrolling the northern No-Fly Zone from Incirlik, Turkey, tangled with Iraqi antiaircraft guns five separate times in barely an hour. Carl Vinson took a fleeting break from the fighting when she moored at Jebel Ali, her first pier side port call of the deployment since leaving American waters (7–10 February).
Carl Vinson and McClusky intercepted 6,177-ton Russian container ship Perma Bridge (Panamanian-registered) in the Arabian Gulf on 16 March 1999. As the Russians obediently mustered on their fo’csle, the boarding party discovered the ship’s chief engineer unconscious in his berth. The team rushed HM1 John Deal from the frigate to Perma Bridge, where Deal diagnosed the Russian as suffering from respiratory distress. A Seawolf of HS-6 evacuated the man to the carrier, where her sick bay watch worked through the night to save him, flying the fortunate man ashore the next day. “It’s still a puzzle about what happened to him,” Lt. Kelly Gann, the nurse running Carl Vinson’s intensive care unit, said later, “But he came to the right place. We have the best corpsmen in the Navy here.”
The carrier came about from the Arabian Gulf on 22 March, after steaming more than 17,000 nautical miles in those waters and launching air strikes against pre-selected targets located in the no-fly zone in support of Southern Watch. During these tense days, her aircraft launched AGM-154A Joint Standoff Weapons (JSOWs) and AIM-54A Phoenix air-to-air missiles for the first time in combat from the ship. Rear Adm. Harms later borrowed the then-current American Express credit card commercials when he referred to the effectiveness of those weapons: “don’t leave home without it.” The ship visited Perth-Fremantle during her return voyage (29 March–3 April). The Australians mostly welcomed the ship in their traditionally hospitable fashion, but about 150 Serbian expatriates and sympathizers marred the occasion on 1 April when they protested U.S. involvement in the Kosovo crisis in the Balkans. While the dissenter’s two-hour rally turned out to be a peaceful event, an incident by 1,500 demonstrators the previous day outside the U.S. Consulate in Perth had become violent when the angry crowd began throwing ink bombs, fruit, and eggs at the building, requiring about 50 police, bolstered by mounted troopers, to protect the Consulate. The Australians reinforced their security teams along the waterfront throughout the visit. Carl Vinson also visited Hobart (7–12 April) before she returned to Bremerton. Aircraft flew a total of 5,600 sorties from her flight deck during the deployment.
About 1,000 crewmembers and their families attended the Seattle Mariners vs. Texas Rangers baseball game at the Kingdome during “USS Carl Vinson Appreciation Day” on 27 June 1999. Capt. Crocker threw the first pitch and the ship’s ceremonial color guard presented the colors. The Mariners defeated the Rangers five to two. During the ship’s passage to Seattle for that city’s Seafair ‘99, the port’s 50th annual anniversary celebration, she embarked 2,200 guests at the ammunition depot at Port Hadlock on Indian Head Island, Wash., and transported them to the city (3–8 August). Carl Vinson led the Seafair Fleet -- centered around Third Fleet flagship Coronado (AGF-11), dock landing ship Anchorage (LSD-36), Bunker Hill (CG-52), Decatur (DDG-73), John A. Moore (FFG-19), and Coast Guard cutter Active (WMEC-618) -- into the harbor. After mooring at Pier 37, she hosted another 22,000 guests, before departing with an additional 350 visitors back to Bremerton on the latter date. The ship completed a $230 million drydocked planned incremental availability at Bremerton, which included upgrading her local area network (July 1999–June 2000). The Navy meanwhile (December 2000–March 2003) completed Pier Delta at Bremerton, a $65 million, 1,310-by-150-foot pier that could berth two Nimitz-class carriers or a carrier and a pair of fast combat support ships simultaneously. The pier also included Sinclair’s, a special recreational facility comprising big screen video games, TVs, internet access, and laundry facilities. Carl Vinson moored to Pier Delta during most of her time at the port over the following years. F/A-18E/F Super Hornets practiced “touch and goes” from the ship while she conducted fleet replacement squadron qualifications in southern Californian waters, the first Super Hornet operations from Carl Vinson, on 23 October 2000.
Carl Vinson experienced a starring role in the motion picture Behind Enemy Lines (5–9 February 2001). The film concerns a pair of naval aviators shot down during a seemingly routine reconnaissance mission over war-torn Bosnia on Christmas day, and is loosely inspired by some of the exploits of Capt. Scott F. O’Grady, USAF. A Serb surface-to-air missile downed his F-16 south of Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina (2–8 June 1995), and he spent the intervening six days eluding his pursuers until marines rescued the intrepid pilot. O’Grady describes his ordeal in the book Return with Honor, which generated some of the film’s script. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation sent 75 members of their production and filming team, including actors Gene Hackman, David Keith, and Owen Wilson, to embark with the ship while she trained and conducted fleet replacement squadron carrier qualifications in Californian waters. “We wanted to show what real life is on a carrier, and being here on the Carl Vinson was really the key to that,” Stephanie Austin, the film’s executive producer, explained. “Carl Vinson was the model for all our interior sets. The Carl Vinson insignia are everywhere on the sets.” About 200 crewmembers participated in the filming as extras and Super Hornets are also featured for the first time flying from the ship during a major film production. Dressed as a Navy lieutenant (he portrays the ship’s command master chief in Behind Enemy Lines), Keith read the reenlistment oath for ET3 Angela McCallister of the Combat Systems Department as she signed-on for a further six years. The ship disembarked her guests when she moored at NAS North Island (also see 23 November 2001).
Carl Vinson deployed to the western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf (23 July 2001–23 January 2002). As a representative wing at the time of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks, CVW-11 comprised: VF-213 (10 F-14Ds); VFAs 22 and 94 (24 F/A-18Cs); VFA-97 (12 F/A-18As); VAW-117 (four E-2Cs); VAQ-135 (four EA-6Bs); VS-29 (eight S-3Bs); VRC-30 Detachment 3 (two C-2As); and HS-6 (four SH-60Fs and two HH-60Hs). The wing reported on board, however, with seven of its nine squadrons non-deployable due to failure to comply with health standards, a situation that forced the Aviation Medicine team of the ship’s Medical Department to perform over 2,000 physicals. Antietam, Princeton, O’Kane (DDG-77), Ingraham (FFG-61), Key West (SSN-722) and Olympia (SSN-717) and fast combat support ship Sacramento (AOE-1) deployed with the carrier. Additionally, some 46 sailors from the Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) Precommissioning Unit volunteered to integrate themselves into Carl Vinson’s crew during the deployment. Rear Adm. Thomas E. Zelibor, Commander CarGru 3, broke his flag in Carl Vinson. During the final two days of this period the wing performed strike training on Kaula Rock, west-southwest of Kawaihoa Point on Ni’ihau in Hawaiian waters. The aircraft continued their work-ups while flying strike training against Wake Island (8–9 August) and bombing runs on Farallon de Medinilla, approximately 45 nautical miles from Saipan in the Northern Marianas (12–13 August). The ship accomplished a dual carrier battle group exercise with Constellation and USAF aircraft in the South China Sea on 17 August, and visited Pattaya Beach in Thailand (23–27 August) and Changi Naval Base at Singapore (28 August–3 September).
As Carl Vinson rounded the southern tip of India en route to the Central Command area of responsibility, word came of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. The Department of Defense declared Force Protection Condition Delta — the highest alert. Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore Jr., Commander Fifth Fleet, oversaw an emergency meeting at NSA Bahrain, and directed some of the nearby aircraft and vessels toward the North Arabian Sea. Enterprise sailed en route to South African waters, and came about and raced northward. The Navy ordered Carl Vinson to put on speed to rendezvous with Enterprise, and she increased to flank speed and arrived in that area the day after the terrorist attacks. “Our morale is high,” Capt. Bruce W. Clingan, her commanding officer, stated in a message home to the crew’s families shortly after the terrorist attacks, “as we wait patiently to see what will happen next on the world stage. We are certain we will play a key role in promoting lasting peace, prosperity and freedom wherever and whenever we might be called into action.”
As the crew prepared for that action, Capt. Richard B. Wren relieved Clingan as the commanding officer during a scheduled ceremony on board on 6 October. “We are the 9/11 force of choice,” Rear Adm. Zelibor noted proudly, “and we have a can-do attitude.” Clingan shared some of his thoughts with the crew and their families at home in part: “…You will crush terrorism and lay claim to ridding the world of fear…You will build nations, even as you eliminate the cancer of extremism that strangles them and will begin a new heritage of benevolence during war. You are America’s sons and daughters, keepers of a proud heritage of character…Victory will require the kind of character that I see every day in every one of you…”
Under a clear sky during the early evening of 7 October 2001, Enterprise and Carl Vinson launched the first strikes of Operation Enduring Freedom, the opening phases of the Global War on Terrorism, beginning against al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters in Afghanistan. Sailors painted on some Tomcat tails “I [heart] NY.” Others affixed New York Fire Department stickers to bombs as special messages to the terrorists. Approximately 25 Naval aircraft supported by about 15 USAF bombers, including Boeing B-1B Lancers, six Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirits of the 509th Bomb Wing, and B-52H Stratofortresses, hit terrorist and military targets in staggered flights with a variety of ordnance. Carl Vinson blasted targets including a command-and-control facility at the airfield at Kandahar in the south of the country. “We were 10 for 10, in order” Capt. Thomas C. Bennett, CAG CVW-11, explained as they dropped all of their 1,000 pound laser-guided GBU-16 bombs and 2,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) air-to-surface weapon kits squarely on their targets. The JDAMs became weapons of choice for their accuracy, lethality, and relatively inexpensive cost. The wing commander fondly referred to his pilots as “my steely-eyed killers.” Another officer noted: “We asked the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. They said no. This is our answer.”
Six Vikings flew off first to refuel strike aircraft, followed by several Hawkeyes, four Tomcats, six Hornets, and several Prowlers. The lack of available facilities in the region compelled the Vikings to supplement USAF and British Royal Air Force (RAF) tankers to keep strike aircraft in the air, a vital mission due to the tremendous distances from the North Arabian Sea. Finding the dimly lit tankers on dark nights through the treacherous air currents of mountainous country became extremely dangerous. To relieve tension, sailors painted onto one S-3B gas tank “Got fuel?” in reference to the popular dairy product commercial. Navy fighters escorted USAF bombers until the coalition attained air supremacy. Hawkeyes conducted surveillance and aircraft flow control, while Prowlers from VAQs 135 and 141 jammed enemy radar. Once they accomplished that, they switched to jamming communications with their ALQ-99 systems, normally utilized against radars, providing a unique twist for the crews. Within 72 hours there “was not a single [radar] emitter,” Rear Adm. John P. Cryer III, Commander Naval Network and Space Operations Command, said later, “emitting in Afghanistan.”
The enemy fired back lightly with guns, man-portable air defense missiles and surface-to-air missiles, but their tracers and missiles randomly streaked into the sky without “any rhyme or reason” one pilot recalled. After the attackers swamped enemy air defenses, Central Command lifted the requirement that all strike aircraft have EA-6B jamming protection. Enterprise and Carl Vinson each held flight operations for approximately 14 to 16 hours daily, overlapping each other as needed to maintain an average of three sections of two Hornets or Tomcats aloft. These tactics enabled strikes to orbit the skies over Afghanistan, waiting for targets to emerge. Carl Vinson’s jets blasted a terrorist training camp near Kandahar on 8 October, and destroyed a pair of MiG-21s on the ground at another airfield. “An aircraft dead on the ground,” Bennett observed, “is better than one airborne.” Capt. Charles R. Wright, the deputy commander of the wing, added: “When they blew, they blew big” as the fires cooked off ammunition and fuel. “Let’s put it this way:” Wright noted, “We would have liked to have seen them airborne,” but the enemy evidently appreciated the risks and failed to rise to dogfight. Wren afterward noted that patriotism ran high during these historic days and many officers desirous of striking back at the enemy asked him to find them assignments on board.
Dust storms blanketed much of southern Afghanistan (10–18 October), causing difficulties for pilots flying strikes, ‘scrambled’ radars, and even sent dense haze out to sea as far as the ship. Nonetheless, aircraft resolutely pounded Taliban airfields, troops, tanks, anti-aircraft weapons mounted on sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and artillery. Tomcats from Carl Vinson hit an airfield at Mukurin in the west of the country early on 10 October, four Hornets struck the airfield at Kandahar, and jets attacked MiG-21s and Su-22 Fitters at the airfield near Shindand in western Afghanistan. The Navy issued strict orders to pilots to visually identify their targets in addition to utilizing their sophisticated equipment, to avoid inadvertently hitting civilians. This increased the risks to naval aviators, as Bennett explained: “You don’t like to stay in the same area too long.” One JDAM proved a dud, however, and failed to explode as it slammed dead-on into a command and control facility at the airfield at Kandahar. “It didn’t explode,” Bennett explained, “but when you have 2,000 pounds of steel ripping through a building, it tends to do a lot of damage.”
Many al Qaeda and Taliban weapons proved difficult to locate from high altitudes, and aircraft consumed fuel looking for them. “Everything they have is small enough to be mobile.” Bennett summarized. During one strike on a moonless night he spent tense minutes searching for an elusive anti-aircraft gun while his aircraft ran low on fuel, finally forcing the pilot to abort his mission and return to the carrier to avoid ditching. Hornets and Tomcats launched in flights of four and six aircraft laden with 500 and 1,000 pound bombs, though others also occasionally returned to the ship still with their ordnance. “I hope the reason we are bringing back bombs,” Bennett speculated, “is that we are running out of targets.” By this point aircraft blasted most of the principal targets into rubble, and searched for what they termed “time sensitive targets,” meaning militants attempting to flee from cave to cave and from compound to compound as they attempted to elude their determined hunters from above. “I think we have severely degraded their command-and-control network” Zelibor noted on 17 October. “We have severely degraded their anti-air capabilities and we have severely degraded their ability to resupply themselves. Now we have fragmented the opposition. It allows us to have a lot more ability to support future operations.” The admiral also elaborated that the Navy began shifting attacks from command and control and surface-to-air missiles to bombing anti-aircraft gunners and troops. Shortly after midnight Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) launched her first strikes in Enduring Freedom from about 150 miles off the coast of Pakistan, adding her firepower to Carl Vinson and Enterprise.
Raids knocked out most enemy air defenses by this point (19–30 October), but a few guns stubbornly held out. “Some guys have not seen a thing” a radar intercept officer mused of his fellow aircrew and their experiences facing enemy air defenses. “For others, it’s a fireworks show.” Carl Vinson aircraft dropped BLU-109 blast/fragmentation 2,000 pound bombs which the crews glibly referred to as “bunker busters” to penetrate and collapse caves and hardened wells where terrorists lurked. “It’s a fairly extensive network that’s out there,” Zelibor explained, “but we’ll systematically go after it the best we can.” The pace of the strikes varied. “This will not happen overnight,” Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld mused. “It is a marathon not a sprint. It will be years, not weeks or months.” Enterprise came about for home on 25 October, leaving Carl Vinson and Theodore Roosevelt to continue pounding the enemy. Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England visited the ship on 30 October and addressed some of the crew: “You are indeed the point of the spear. What you do is crucial not just for our nation, but it’s literally crucial for the world.” The enemy continued their elusive game of cat and mouse, but not all escaped the vigilance of pilots. Flying a Tomcat, Wright and his radar intercept officer struck a cluster of buildings near Kandahar. An Army Green Beret controller observing the action notified Wright that the Taliban survivors attempted to escape. “We just rolled back in,” the pilot noted, looked down and saw these vehicles that looked like circus cars with guys jumping out everywhere. We were able to make another strike.” The crew enjoyed a picnic and a beer ration after being at sea continuously for 45 days on 9 November.
As special forces operators and the Northern Alliance (the United National and Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan — allied Afghan troops) drove the enemy from their positions in the northern half of the country and liberated the capital of Kabul, aircrew experienced additional difficulties identifying the warring factions from the air, prompting further delays on 14 November. “The confusion is,” Bennett elaborated, “the rapid advance of the Northern Alliance has left us with an unclear picture of where the good guys and the bad guys are exactly located.” The film Behind Enemy Lines premiered before an estimated 3,000 sailors who packed the flight deck for a needed break from wartime operations on 23 November. David Keith left his family on Thanksgiving to share the viewing with the crew. “It is great to be back here again,” the actor said. “Every man, woman and child in the United States of America wants to be you.” The movie also premiered ashore at North Island during the month. As the fighting on the ground surged into southern Afghanistan, however, the desperate enemy renewed their attacks against aircraft flying overhead with barrages of such intensity that they surprised aircrew (1–3 December). “We’re all talking about it,” Lt. (j.g.) Abe Bush, a Hornet pilot, declared. The militants fired even RPGs (from the Russian Raketniy Protivotankoviy Granatomets or rocket anti-tank grenade launchers) at aircraft, most of which flew too high to be hit by such ordnance, but their actions nonetheless provided tense moments for pilots. “I wanted the excitement of Naval Aviation,” Bush said. “I guess I’m getting it.”
With coalition victory in sight as the combination of air and missile strikes on the one hand, and special forces operators acting as forward air controllers with allied Afghan troops on the other, routed the militants, the ship came about from the North Arabian Sea, turning over to her relief, John C. Stennis (CVN-74), in the North Arabian Sea (17–18 December 2001). “History will record,” Vice Adm. Moore observed solemnly, “that the USS Carl Vinson battle group made the most significant contribution to our nation’s military response to the tragic events of September 11.” Carl Vinson endured 111 straight days at sea during this deployment, accomplished over 8,000 fixed-wing launches and recoveries, and more than 4,950 helo sorties. These flights included 4,429 traps, 2,417 of which were at night; her aircraft flew over 300 coordinated strike missions, about 4,200 combat sorties, logged 10,731 flight hours, and dropped over 2,020,000 pounds of ordnance against the enemy within Afghanistan. This meant that the weapons assembly teams prepared over 1,600 precision-guided munitions, including laser-guided bombs and JDAMs. So much ordnance left the ship that she required no less than 22 combat ammunition replenishments -- five times as many pallets of ordnance then during the previous two years combined -- during the wing’s 70 days of flying combat missions for Enduring Freedom. The crew sent 1,432,660 emails and received 2,104,819, demonstrating the unique impact that that electronic medium could make upon morale, and the carrier connected 450 sailors with their families via teleconferencing, 76 of whom were new fathers.
Carl Vinson controlled a total of 16 ships, 55 maritime patrol aircraft, and 45 helos from three separate battle groups during Enduring Freedom. Mail became a problem because of delays imposed by prioritizing supplies, and to security concerns following Anthrax attacks in the U.S., the latter requiring postal handlers on board to utilize special biological and bomb threat procedures. A critical shortage of Anthrax vaccines left most servicemembers across the globe without protection against the dreaded disease, a fear that weighed upon the minds of mail handlers. During the first weeks after 9/11 correspondence could take up to 35 days to reach the ship from home, but strident efforts by all hands ensured a relatively smoother flow into November, which became especially important to crewmembers as Christmas approached. “This is what they did for the American people,” a writer in the carrier’s Cruise Book declared. The ship visited Singapore en route home (23–27 December 2001), and shortly after she stood out of that bustling port, crossed the equator two days after Christmas. Heavy swells washed over the foc’sle the second day out of Pearl Harbor, forcing activities for 975 embarked family members below deck (8–14 January 2002).
The ship completed a planned nine-month incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in five months (7 March–6 September 2002). The crew began removing equipment required to support Tomcats in keeping with the Navy’s gradual phase-out of F-14s from inventory. They also reconfigured the composite shop of Aircraft Division (IM-2) to accommodate F/A-18E/F Super Hornet components. During the first week of September, the ship conducted sea trials in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, and Capt. Wren announced that the ship was ready for sea again on 6 September. While she conducted fleet replacement squadron carrier qualifications in southern Californian waters, the Navy ordered her to accelerate the inter-deployment training cycle to participate in San Diego’s Fleet Week parade (7 September–31 December 2002).
Carl Vinson deployed to the western Pacific (first operating in eastern Pacific waters), with rumors circulating that she would enable Kitty Hawk, which normally operated in those regions, to deploy to the Arabian Gulf to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom (13 January–19 September 2003). Antietam, Lassen (DDG-82), Ingraham, and Sacramento deployed with Carl Vinson. As the carrier arrived off Hawaii, Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, Commander Pacific Command, directed her to operate in Hawaiian waters while preparing for war. In addition to the impending strikes against the Iraqis, planners on board also had to take into account a burgeoning crisis with the North Koreans concerning the latter’s ongoing efforts to expand their nuclear weapons program. The North Koreans expelled international nuclear inspectors and restarted a plant suspected of being capable of producing weapons-grade Plutonium, generating fears of a possible North Korean strike against countries across the Pacific Rim, including the U.S. On 13 February 2003 the Navy announced that the carrier would relieve Kitty Hawk. An F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-147 crashed in the western Pacific about 45 miles from Carl Vinson, at approximately 2015 on 18 February. The pilot ejected and a helo recovered him unharmed.
While the ship resurfaced her flight deck during a visit to Naval Activities, Guam (May 2003), she learned that Kitty Hawk returned to Japanese waters, which extended Carl Vinson’s deployment to eight months. The Navy announced her extended deployment on 13 May, “in order to maintain a responsible defensive posture in the region” Jon Yoshishige, a Pacific Fleet spokesman explained. Sacramento visited Guam with the carrier, while Ingraham put into Saipan, also in the Marianas. Carl Vinson, Antietam, Ingraham, and Sacramento visited Singapore on 26 June. During flight operations in the western Pacific the following month, Petty Officer Third Class Jason Countryman of VAQ-138 saved a sailor from being drawn into the engine of an EA-6B. As sailors completed pre-flight checks on a Hornet and directed it toward its assigned spot on the flight deck, the Hornet swept its exhaust in the direction of the Prowler and its deck crew. Countryman, seeing that his shipmate would take the force of the blow, shoved him to the deck, where they huddled beneath the scorching blast. Carl Vinson steamed approximately 60,000 nautical miles and aircraft flew more than 10,000 sorties during the deployment, and she participated in a number of exercises including Foal Eagle (4 March–2 April), Tandem Thrust, and Ulchi Focus Lens. The crew went ashore in Guam, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong.
On 9 October 2003, the Navy announced that it recommended to the Department of Defense to begin the ship’s refueling and complex overhaul in the fall of 2005, one year later than originally planned. The factors driving the decision included: the ship’s overall material condition; the fleet’s operational capabilities; and operational needs. This would be Carl Vinson’s only such overhaul scheduled during her planned 50-years of commissioned service, though the delay ensured that the Navy received the maximum benefit from the ship’s reactor fuel. The move also entailed shifting the 2005 drydock planned incremental availability for George Washington (CVN-73) from Norfolk Naval Shipyard to Northrop Grumman Newport News.
Twenty staff members from Columbia Pictures spent six days filming the motion picture Stealth on board Carl Vinson (late January 2004). The movie concerns the introduction of three futuristic stealth fighters designated Talons into the fleet. To increase the Talon's success ratio, officials use a supersonic unmanned version, lined with a breathable titanium exo-skeleton. When the technology malfunctions, however, U.S. Navy pilots save the day. “We looked at many ships,” Kwame Parker, the production supervisor, explained, “but we chose the [Carl] Vinson primarily for two reasons: The ship and crew have experience dealing with film crews, and during those past interactions, the merge was easy.”
The ship’s CVW-9 sank former Coast Guard cutter White Bush (WLM-542) (ex-covered lighter YF-339) about 200 miles of the coast of southern California, on 17 June 2004. VAQ-138 fired a pair of HARMs, while a Seahawk from HS-8 launched an AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missile and Hornets pummeled the former U.S. Navy district craft with 20 Mk 83 1,000 pound bombs. Aviators vied for the satisfaction of sending her to the bottom. “We put the hole in [her],” Lt. (j.g.) Rick Hess of HS-8 noted proudly, “that ultimately led to [her] sinking.”
Carl Vinson sailed on a global circumnavigation (1 February–31 July 2005). Antietam -- which later detached for her own world cruise -- O’Kane, Mustin, Camden, Olympia, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11, Detachment 9, deployed with her. Two E-2C Hawkeyes of VAW-126 meanwhile deployed from Harry S. Truman -- which had relieved John F. Kennedy on 20 November 2004 -- in the Arabian Gulf to Kandahar AB Afghanistan, providing airborne command and control during President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration (4–13 December 2004). On 30 January 2005, aircraft flying from Harry S. Truman provided on-call close air support in 32 sorties during the Iraqi national elections. Carl Vinson thus relieved Harry S. Truman in the Arabian Gulf during a tense time on 20 March. On 4 April an F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-147 and an F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-154 flying from the ship blasted Iraqi insurgents east of Baghdad with two 500 pound laser-guided bombs. Six aircrew from VAQ-138 detached for Bagram AB (6 April–24 May). Flying through harsh weather and over the rugged Hindu Kush Mountains, the six sailors provided electronic warfare support for coalition forces battling resurgent militants. A detachment comprising half the SH-60F and HH-60Hs of HS-8 subsequently deployed from Carl Vinson to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. The Seahawks patrolled southeastern Iraq and flew maritime security operations over the Northern Arabian Gulf, returning to Carl Vinson on 29 June. In addition, the squadron’s Strike Force Search and Rescue team also deployed ashore to Camp Arifjan. They labored under difficult conditions and their hangar consisted of a large, three-room shack next to Patton Airfield, a strip of asphalt they shared with USA Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks. Nonetheless, they patrolled the skies over both southeastern Iraq and the northern Arabian Gulf.
A pair of USMC F/A-18Cs from Carl Vinson, flown by Maj. John C. Spahr, USMC, and Capt. Kelly C. Hinz, USMC, of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, crashed over Iraq while supporting coalition troops, at approximately 2210 on 2 May. Investigators failed to uncover evidence of hostile fire and believed that the two Hornets collided at about 30,000 feet. Searchers retrieved both men’s bodies. The fighting continued unabated, and when Iraqi insurgents attacked coalition troops south of Samara on 8 May, a Hornet from VFA-147 and an F/A-18C from VMFA-323 dropped six precision bombs on the enemy.
An engine room fire broke out on board Panamanian-flagged bulk cargo ship Olympias, approximately 27 miles off the coast of Iran, at about 2300 on 11 May 2005. The emperiled freighter sent a distress message via bridge-to-bridge radio and Carl Vinson, then operating in proximity, received the call and dispatched Mustin to render assistance. Mustin’s embarked SH-60B, of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 45 Detachment 5, manned by Lt. Neil Penso, Lt. (j.g.) Eric D. Hutter, and AW2 Jay Peer, flew ahead and directed the ship to the scene. The Seahawk contacted the burning vessel. “Yes, this is Olympias,” the merchantman’s master responded calmly, “we are in ballast, in ballast, no cargo. We have 27 people on board, we are all up forward on the bow. Please help, please come soon!” As the Seahawk orbited the ship, however, explosions suddenly rocked Olympias. “Gigantic balls of flame began spewing out of the superstructure,” Hutter afterward related, “scattering showers of sparks and billowing smoke.” With the heightened danger, the ship’s master’s hitherto calm demeanor changed to one of shouted urgency: “Coalition warship, this is Olympias, where are you? We are on fire, please hurry, we are in distress. Please hurry, I say again the entire ship is on fire.” Mustin reached the area during the mid watch, and observed the motor vessel’s superstructure ablaze and two of her mariners leap into a life raft to escape the flames. The destroyer lowered Privateer and Rumrunner -- as her crew nicknamed her two rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) -- whose teams rescued all 27 crewmembers, helping the two survivors in the life raft climb into the RHIBs, and the remaining 25 climb down a 40-foot ladder into the boats. Mustin’s sailors then transferred Olympias’ survivors, comprising 25 Indians, one Nepalese, and one Sri Lankan, from the RHIBs to the ship, where they provided them with medical attention, food, and clothing.
At about 0820 on 11 June, Carl Vinson received a bridge-to-bridge distress call from Iranian-flagged fishing dhow Henif, while the carrier took part in Operation Sea Dragon —maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf. The carrier dispatched Mustin to assist the Iranians, and HM3 Michael Campion from the destroyer discovered a fisherman suffering from acute abdominal pain due to a possible allergic reaction. They evacuated him to Mustin, where a Seahawk transported him to Carl Vinson for more extensive care. The carrier’s medical team restored the fisherman to health and one of her rigid hull inflatable boats returned him to Henif as the carrier pulled alongside, dwarfing the dhow. “They were glad we were in the area and willing to help,” Lt. (j.g.) Justin Burney, officer-in-charge of Mustin’s rescue team, said of the Iranian crew. “They said our presence in the Gulf was also a good thing, as it maintained the security of the waterways.”
A Super Hornet from VFA-154 dropped a precision-guided bomb on Iraqi insurgents in the vicinity of Hit, while conducting overhead presence and security, on 25 June 2005. During grueling 13-and-a-half-hour fly days on 29 and 30 June, the ship launched a total of 6,500 sorties of more than 20,000 flight hours. Before Carl Vinson came about VAQ-138 sent another detachment ashore to al Asad AB in Iraq (30 June–17 July). The detachment endured the turbulent weather of the region, which includes scorching heat and dangerous brownouts caused by dust generated by wind and by aircraft exhausts. Carl Vinson moored to Pier 14 at her new home port of Norfolk after completing a trip around the world, on 31 July 2005. She then completed a $1.94 billion refueling complex overhaul at Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard, primarily in Drydock No. 11 (11 November 2005–11 July 2009).
A magnitude 7.3 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 12 January 2010, killing an estimated 230,000 people. The U.S. initiated Operation Unified Response — humanitarian aid to victims. At the peak level of Unified Response, 23 Navy ships participated including Carl Vinson, with CVW-17 embarked, Bunker Hill, amphibious assault ships Bataan (LHD-5) and Nassau (LHA-4), dock landing ships Ashland (LSD-48), Carter Hall (LSD-50), Fort McHenry (LSD-43), and Gunston Hall (LSD-44), and amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde (LPD-19), with the 22nd and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units embarked, together with 10 Coast Guard ships. A total of 264 U.S. fixed-wing aircraft took part, along with 57 helos and tiltrotor aircraft. The Air Force diverted a Northrop Grumman RQ-4A en route to Afghanistan and operated the Global Hawk on several reconnaissance missions over Haiti from NAS Patuxent River, Md. Airlifters of all the services and international aid agencies staged through NAS Jacksonville, Fla. Carl Vinson came about on 1 February and by 24 March these vessels largely sailed from Haitian waters, although relief efforts continued into the summer.
Littoral combat ship Freedom (LCS-1) made her maiden deployment to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific via the Panama Canal when the ship shifted her home port from Mayport, Fla., to San Diego (16 February–23 April 2010). A Littoral Combat Ship Surface Warfare Mission Package, an MH-60S of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 Detachment 2, and a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment, embarked. Freedom conducted the ship’s first drug seizure when she disrupted a go-fast and recovered more than a quarter ton of cocaine, off the Columbian coast on 22 February. During the voyage the ship made four narcotics interceptions comprising over five and a quarter tons of cocaine and 13 smugglers. The ship meanwhile accomplished her first integrated at-sea operations when she exercised with Carl Vinson in southern Californian waters on 7 April.
After U.S. special operators killed al-Qaeda terrorist leader Usama bin Lāden, his body was brought on board Carl Vinson, where he was buried at sea while the ship steamed in the north Arabian Sea, on 2 May 2011.” Preparations for at-sea [burial] began at 1:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and were completed at 2 a.m.,” a U.S. official announced to the media. The burial followed traditional Muslim burial customs, and bin Lāden’s body was washed and placed in a white sheet. “The body was placed in a weighted bag,” the official added. “A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker.” Afterward, the terrorist’s body was placed onto a flat board, which was then elevated upward on one side and the body slid off into the sea. The Americans buried bin Lāden at sea because no country would accept his remains, a senior defense official explained.
Abraham Lincoln launched her first combat sorties in support of Enduring Freedom during a deployment on 16 February 2012. While Abraham Lincoln operated in support of Enduring Freedom, a team of Ground Liaison Officers of the Army’s 4th Battlefield Coordination Detachment served as communications links between soldiers and marines on the ground in Afghanistan and the aircrew of CVW-2. This detachment had previously sailed on board Carl Vinson. An operational average of barely .01 percent of soldiers served on board naval vessels, but this detachment utilized the Combined Regional Information Exchange system and Secret Internet Protocol Router network phones to communicate with the troops on the ground, facilitating air strikes from the ship. The soldiers also helped to decipher the acronyms and codes utilized by the different services.
Massive Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advances embroiled the Middle East in 2014, and within one 30-hour period that August, George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) launched combat sorties to support the Afghan Democratic run-off elections, and then came about and steamed at her best possible speed on westerly courses, passing through the Strait of Hormuz to fight in two theaters of war within the same day. On 8 August, the ship launched armed close air support and intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance missions that supported American servicemembers and civilians consolidating in Baghdad against the ISIL advance. Philippine Sea and Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), operating in the north Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, respectively, fired 47 TLAMs during these initial strikes, the devastating combination of air and missile strikes slowing the ISIS thrust in northern and central Iraq. The U.S.-led coalition gradually expanded these battles to contain ISIS, subsequently designating the fighting as Operation Inherent Resolve. Carl Vinson, with CVW-17 embarked, Bunker Hill, Dewey (DDG-105), Gridley (DDG-101), and Sterett (DDG-104), deployed to the Fifth and Seventh Fleets (22 August 2014–4 June 2015). Carl Vinson relieved George H.W. Bush on 18 October, which then passed northbound through the Suez Canal on 27 October and returned to Norfolk on 15 November. Aircraft flew 12,300 sorties, including 2,382 combat missions, from Carl Vinson’s flight deck during the fighting, dropping more than half a million pounds of ordnance against ISIS.
Carl Vinson completed a Fleet Battle Experiment for the projected Navy variant CMV-22B Osprey in the Pacific (22 July–4 August 2016). Commander, Naval Air Forces conducted the experiment, which explored, analyzed, and documented the characteristics of operating a detachment of Ospreys for a carrier strike group as a replacement for the C-2A Greyhound. Ospreys transported 34,590 pounds of cargo and 563 passengers to and from the ship during the testing.
Carl Vinson deployed to the western Pacific in 2018, and, in company with Lake Champlain (CG-57) and Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108), called at Da Nang, Vietnam, on 5 March for a scheduled five day visit. The occasion marked the first time a U.S. carrier visited the country since the Vietnam War. John S. McCain (DDG-56) and submarine tender Frank Cable (AS-40) visited Cam Ranh International Port in June 2017.
“Our nations’ relationship has reached new heights in the past few years, and USS Carl Vinson’s port visit to Vietnam is a reflection of that,” Adm. Scott H. Swift, Commander, Pacific Fleet, observed. “I am confident that engagements like this will further expand the comprehensive partnership between the United States and Vietnam.”
“The visit marks an enormously significant milestone in our bilateral relations and demonstrates U.S. support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam,” U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel J. Kritenbrink reflected. “Through hard work, mutual respect, and by continuing to address the past while we work toward a better future, we have gone from former enemies to close partners.”
VFA-147 completed carrier qualifications in Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning IIs on board Carl Vinson on 12 December 2018. Their safe-for-flight operations certification marked a major milestone in their transition from F/A-18E Super Hornets to Lightning IIs, and in the Navy’s plan to declare Initial Operating Capability for the newer jets.
||Date Assumed Command
|Capt. Richard L. Martin
||13 March 1982
|Capt. Thomas A. Mercer
||30 July 1983
|Capt. George D. O’Brien Jr.
||20 March 1986
|Capt. Doyle J. Borchers II
||14 April 1989
|Capt. John S. Payne
||28 March 1992
|Capt. Larry C. Baucom
||7 October 1994
|Capt. David M. Crocker
||29 January 1997
|Capt. Bruce W. Clingan
||8 November 1999
|Capt. Richard B. Wren
||6 October 2001
|Capt. Kevin M. Donegan
||14 May 2004
|Capt. Walter E. Carter Jr.
||5 October 2006
|Capt. Bruce H. Lindsey
||7 July 2009
|Capt. Kent D. Whalen
||2 December 2011
|Capt. Karl O. Thomas
||1 September 2014
|Capt. Douglas C. Verissimo
||31 May 2016
Detailed history pending.
Mark L. Evans
18 December 2018