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Enterprise VIII (CVAN-65)


(CVA(N)-65: displacement 85,600 tons (full load); length 1101'; beam 133'; extreme width 252'; draft 35'; speed 30+ knots; complement 4,600; class Enterprise)

Boldness, energy, and invention in practical affairs.


History: 2001-2004
Operating out of Norfolk, Enterprise conducted flight deck certification for CVW-8 off the Virginia capes (9-18 February 2000), and carried out an independent steaming exercise in those waters that spring (12-20 April). The ship punctuated upkeep, training, and local operations with a visit to Pensacola, Florida (9-13 June), during which time 32,365 people trod her decks. Enterprise operated CVW-8 again during TSTA II/III/FEP evolutions off the Virginia capes (18 September-5 October). Later, in those same waters, Enterprise worked with CVW-8 in a second stint of flight deck certification (30 November-5 December).

Enterprise completed CompTuEx A, operating with USMC AV-8B Harrier IIs, off the Virginia capes, 17–31 January 2001. Additional training, including aircrews working with SOF simulating CAS runs, followed in CompTuEx B and JTFEx, both also off the Virginia capes, 27 February–25 March, training that “would pay off later in the year in the skies over Afghanistan.”

Enterprise deployed on 25 April 2001, initially steaming some 100 miles off the Virginia capes to embark CVW-8: VF-14 and VF-41 (F-14Bs), VFA-15 and VFA- 87 (F/A-18Cs), VAQ-141 (EA-6Bs), VAW-124 (E-2Cs), VS-24 (S-3Bs), VRC-40 Detachment 5 (C-2As), and HS-3 (SH-60F/HH-60Hs).  The “Big E” first turned southward, conducting brief carrier qualifications and exercises off Puerto Rico, including the range at Vieques, before proceeding across the Atlantic and through the Strait of Gibraltar “within a week.” Following two weeks of “non-stop flight operations,” the ship reached Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

During this period, Enterprise also sent two mixed aviation detachments ashore. Manar 01-2 det operated from Sidi Ahmed AB, Bizerte, Tunisia, 14–-21 May 2001. The pilots of the wing were able to test their mettle against Tunisian F-5 Tiger pilots, as well as sharpening their air-to-ground skills on target ranges in the surrounding desert. After recovering the detachment, Enterprise visited Cannes.

Trident Door, a NATO exercise in the western Med, 21-–31 May 2001, found an Enterprise detachment flying out of Solenzara, Corsica, as guests of the French Air Force. Spanish AV-8B Harrier IIs, Italian F-104 Starfighters and French Super Etendards, the last-named planes flying from the nuclear-powered carrier Charles de Gaulle, “proved to be worthy rivals” for Enterprise and her embarked pilots.  Lieutenant Tyler Sherwin and Lieutenant John Kelly, VF-41, meanwhile, had the unique experience of sinking an unmanned French destroyer, stricken from that nation’s service and used for the exercise, with direct hits by a pair of MK 82 general purpose bombs. The “Big E” then steamed into the central Med to enable her aircrews to practice on an Albanian target range, before visiting Naples, after which time she transited the Strait of Gibraltar, exited the Med and turned toward the U.K., for a visit to Portsmouth.

Following her visit to that English seaport, Enterprise steamed north with cruiser Philippine Sea, destroyer McFaul (DDG-74), attack submarine Hampton (SSN-767) and fast combat support ship Arctic (AOE-8) to participate in Joint Maritime Course 2001–2 (JMC 01–2), a multi-national joint and combined warfare training exercise, 18–29 June 2001. Forty-six ships, including British carrier HMS Illustrious, five submarines, 1,400 Marines and over 100 aircraft were involved in the massive exercise, held off the coast of northern Scotland. Aircrews from Enterprise “enjoyed some magnificent flying” during JMC 01-2, including low level runs over “fog shrouded lochs and crags,” polishing their ACM skills against British Tornadoes and Harriers, as well as French Super Etendards. For its part, HS-3 welcomed the opportunity to track Swedish diesel submarines. The wing’s pilots dropped MK 82s on “tactically realistic targets,” the British Special Air Service (SAS) providing “superb” all weather FACs. NVRs proved “useless” in these extreme northern latitudes, “as the sun simply did not set.” And with the temperature of the North Atlantic usually a “bone chilling” 50º F. or lower, aircrews were required to wear survival drysuits.

Upon completion of JMC 01–2, Enterprise sailed southward, spending Independence Day weekend in Lisbon, Portugal, before continuing on across the Med. While crossing the eastern Med, a VS-24 maintainer was blown overboard by jet blast. Troubleshooter 615, an SH-60F manned by Lieutenant Commander “Puck” Esposito, pilot, Lieutenant Ryan Keys, co-pilot, Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class Mike Thayer and Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class Ron Jankowski, HS-3, already airborne, recovered the “wet, but otherwise unharmed” Sailor in less than six minutes.

Subsequently, Enterprise participated in Juniper Hawk with Israeli forces, her aircrews matching their skills against Israeli F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons (12–19 July 2001); this exercise also included basing a detachment ashore at Nevatim, Israel. After a short visit to Ródhos, Enterprise transited the Suez Canal, with a pair of HH-60Hs standing “immediate action alerts,” crossing the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean. During the evening of 2 August, she transited the Strait of Hormuz, entering the Arabian Gulf and subsequently relieving Constellation for Operation Southern Watch.

Maritime Interception Operations (MIOs) were coalition efforts to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) imposed against Iraq following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The UN prohibited cargo originating from Iraq and any imports not accompanied by a UN authorization letter, though the food for oil agreement permitted the Iraqis to sell oil and import approved goods. While operating in support of Southern Watch, the ship and her aircraft tracked all merchant shipping in the region, the results making August one of the most successful months ever recorded to date for interceptions of Iraqi smugglers, as well as executing numerous interdiction and counter air missions over southern Iraq. In addition to the ever present danger from the Iraqis, the Sailors and Marines on board Enterprise constantly struggled with the “oppressive heat.”

The Black Aces planned and led the ship’s first Response Option strike into Iraq, subsequently planning and leading 10 other missions over a six-week period. The squadron flew 63 sorties against the Iraqis, during two “highly successful” strikes dropping four GBU-16s and three GBU-12s on three different DMPI’s.

Commander, Joint Task Force, Southwest Asia (CJTF-SWA) adopted the squadron’s tactics as the standard Southern Watch Response Option strike package for that period. In addition, Surveillance System Upgrade (SSU) S-3Bs were integrated into the wing, proving tactically viable in a “permissive littoral environment.” Planes from Enterprise dropped Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) and JSOW-As upon Iraqi SAM sites.

Enterprise continued to remain on station supporting Southern Watch, visiting both Jebel Ali and Dubai later in the month; limited liberty options at the latter place caused some sailors to spend their off hours in the pierside recreation dubbed “The Sandbox.” Ultimately, the final Southern Watch strike of 2001 was planned and executed on 9 September. By the time she came about immediately afterward, CVW-8 had dropped over 29,000 lb of ordnance “against a variety of Iraqi targets.”

On Tuesday, 11 September 2001 however, the United States was attacked by al Qaeda terrorists. Four airliners, American Airlines Flight 11 and United 175, both Boeing B-767s, and American 77 and United 93, B-757s, were hijacked shortly after take off. American 11 and United 175 were both flown into the World Trade Center towers, New York City, and American 77 was flown into the Pentagon. During an apparent struggle with the terrorists when the hostages heroically attempted to regain control of the B-757, United 175 crashed about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Altogether, the terrorist atrocities, eventually referred to as “9/11,” murdered upward of 3,000 people from as many as 86 nations.

Enterprise had just departed from the Arabian Gulf, transiting the Strait of Hormuz, and was steaming off the southern coast of Yemen. The ship was en route to Capetown, South Africa, for an exercise with the South African Navy, prior to her return to the U.S. Coming about, she charged north, later taking station 100 miles south of Pakistan.

U.S. and allied intelligence soon learned that the Islamic extremist Taliban regime in Afghanistan was harboring bin Laden and his terrorists, and the Coalition’s first retaliatory responses in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) were directed accordingly.

The crew began approaching training with deadly earnestness and at 1407 during the afternoon watch on 1 October, commenced CIWS and small arms practice shoots, securing at 1748.

Following an additional underway replenishment with Sacramento the previous day to top off ordnance and fuel, Enterprise steamed ready for action at 0859 on 4 October 2001. VFA-15 began flying CAP over Pakistan, and HS-3 and HS-6 also stood up the Navy’s CSAR alert package for the northern Arabian Sea, the Tridents maintaining two alert helos accordingly, with the Navy initially responsible for all CSARs in Pakistan south of 28º N and all SARs over water.

Enterprise conducted one more underway replenishment before striking back against the terrorists deep with their Afghan lairs, coming alongside of Arctic, and performing the usual emergency breakaway drill, 0700–-0953, Sunday 7 October 2001.  Steaming in company with Enterprise on that fateful night were destroyer McFaul (DDG-74), attack submarine Providence (SSN-719) and Arctic. Nearby were Philippine Sea and destroyer Nicholson (DD-982), the latter joining Enterprise by the mid watch on the 8th. Before the first wave launched, Captain “Sandy” Winnefeld addressed the crew over the 1MC, recalling that the previous carrier named Enterprise (CV-6) had participated in the first retaliatory raids against the Japanese in early 1942, and that this latest Enterprise, like her predecessor, was avenging a “treacherous attack on our homeland.”

John Paul Jones claimed the credit for the first surface TLAM launches against al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist and military targets within Afghanistan, shortly after dusk, around 1800, on 7 October, followed at 1819 by McFaul and other vessels. “JPJ” fired multiple salvoes, launching so many TLAMs during the initial strikes that it would require several working parties for her crew to scrub away the dense black soot seared into her deck from the missiles, even utilizing high-pressure fire hoses. Her TLAMs hit every assigned target, principally SAMs and associated radar, communication and command and control systems, paving the way for the air strikes. A total of 78 TLAMs were launched by U.S. and British ships and submarines.

The first strikes launched from the carriers at approximately 1830, reaching their targets around 2230. Approximately 25 aircraft from Enterprise and Carl Vinson, supported by about 15 USAF bombers, including Boeing, North America B-1B Lancers, six Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirits and Boeing B-52H Stratofortresses, hit al Qaeda and Taliban military targets in staggered flights with a variety of ordnance. Navy fighters escorted Air Force bombers until air supremacy was established.

At 2213 Enterprise announced Green Deck, commencing combat flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the designation for operations in the GWOT outside of the U.S., also energizing Blue Stern. She launched her first aircraft of the strike two minutes later, while steaming 300º at five knots, increasing to 16 knots at 2220, some 12 aircraft streaking aloft during this cycle.

Among these first aircraft was a pair of heavily laden VF-41 Tomcats. Within an hour, they were “feet dry” and “joining” on their first mission tanker, prior to flying several hundred miles north into Afghanistan. Upon reaching their target areas, the aircrews trained their LANTIRN (Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared System (Night) pods toward the pre-briefed aimpoints, successfully guiding PGMs directly onto their targets in the war’s first time sensitive strike mission.

During the first 24 hours, Enterprise launched a further 36 and recovered 33 aircraft, each strike package assigned specific targets. Overnight into 8 October 2001 she launched five aircraft and recovered five, 0145-–0221; launched two and recovered six, 0557-–0608; launched seven and recovered six, 0718-–0752; launched five and recovered five, 0848-–0920; launched three and recovered six, 1018-–1044; launched two and recovered four, 1148–-1216; launched one and recovered one, 1651–-1702; and launched 11, 2220-–2306.

As these flight cycles demonstrate, planes from the carriers hit their objectives in waves, striking 31 targets, including aircraft, airfields, SAM and AAA sites and terrorist training camps. Three targets lay close to Kabul, the capital, four were near to other cities and 23 were in rural areas. All three Coalition waves blasted al Qaeda and Taliban positions in and around Kabul. Among key targets hit around the capital were Kabul International Airport, the Ministry of Defense, Royal Palace, Television Tower and Radio Afghanistan, all being utilized by the regime for military command and control, and the jihadi (Muslim volunteers) complex at Rishkoor, on the southern edge of Kabul.

Besides Kabul, the first wave hit targets in and around airfields at Bagram, Bamiyan, Farah, Herat, one of the better airfields, where a nearby oil depot was reportedly hit, triggering a huge explosion, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif. The airfield at Shindand was also struck, as were Taliban troop positions at Herat, Jalalabad, Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif. The first and second waves struck al Qaeda terrorist compounds at Jalalabad, the jihadi complex at Farmada, 12 miles south of Jalalabad, and Kandahar. Kandahar International Airport was bombed, destroying the Taliban command center there, and the control tower and radar facilities were also struck. The airport also included approximately 300 houses built to house al Qaeda terrorists and jihadis, and was considered a hotbed of terrorism.

The Taliban national H.Q., located nine miles outside of Kandahar was hit, the city’s primary power supply was knocked out, and ordnance slammed into the nearby compound of Mullah (mawlā or mullā, master) Mohammed Akhund Omar, the professed Taliban head of state. Also hit on the first day was a SAM site near Kandahar, and the terrorist training camp at Garmabak Ghar.  Although both bin Laden and Omar escaped, the attacks devastated the al Qaeda and Taliban chain of command and infrastructure, striking a heavy blow against the terrorists and their supporters.

Coalition aircrews flew just under 200 sorties on these first strikes with a 100% completion rate. No aircraft were lost and none diverted ashore. During the first 24 hours of Enduring Freedom combat operations, CVW-8 dropped 14 GBU CCGs, 12 MK 82s, two MK 84s, four BLU-109s, 12 GBU-12 AFGs, two GBU-24 AFGs and four JDAM kit BLU-109s. Refueling was critical to coalition success, as strike aircraft averaged 5.5 hours per mission, and double that for targets in northern Afghanistan. Most such missions required aircraft to be refueled on both their inbound and outbound flights, an exhausting process for the crews. On this night, seven VS-24 S-3Bs flew ahead of the strikes, loitering above Pakistan to rendezvous with strike aircraft. As Enduring Freedom continued, USAF Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers augmented the Vikings.

Prowlers from the Shadowhawks combined with other EA-6Bs to complete their core mission of Taliban and al Qaeda electronic suppression. Within 72 hours, Rear Admiral John P. Cryer, III, Commander, Naval Network and Space Operations Command, later observed, there “was not a single [radar] emitter emitting in Afghanistan.”  Once the comparatively primitive al Qaeda and Taliban systems were neutralized, the Prowlers switched over to jamming enemy ground communications, enabling coalition forces to localize their adversaries.

The Tophatters (VF-14) from Enterprise led the first Navy strike into Kabul, destroying its early warning facility. A “resounding military and psychological success,” the aircrews also noted the locations of several SAM and AAA sites, passing on the information to following strike packages. Throughout those raids, F-14B Tomcats identified and passed on precision targeting coordinates to strike aircraft utilizing tactical targeting of LANTIRN pods.  In addition, TARPS was instrumental in distinguishing and tracking the enemy. VF-41, the other embarked Tomcat squadron on board Enterprise, acted as FACs, providing “buddy lasing” for F/A-18C Hornets. Despite appalling difficulties imposed by dogged enemy resistance, grueling weather, inhospitable terrain and vast distances, VF-41 posted an 82.4% success rate with GBU-10, 12, 16 and 24 series LGBs, as well as guiding 26 AGM-65E Mavericks and eight GBU-16s from other wing aircraft.

Enterprise focused upon night operations, and Carl Vinson daytime, with reveille for the crew of the “Big E” at 1800 and taps at 1000. This was a difficult adjustment for her crew, but it kept the pressure on the enemy around the clock.

As the mid watch assumed the watch at 2346 on 9 October 2001, they proudly noted the ship’s deck log: “Steaming in the Arabian Sea operating in support of Operation Enduring FreedomEnterprise’s first such entry.

Also on the 9th, the Tophatters led an astonishing long-range tactical air strike, flying over 1,700 miles round trip. Two F-14Bs were diverted from an assigned Defensive Counter Air (DCA) mission, utilizing “meticulous” in-flight planning and time sensitive targeting to destroy three MiG-21 Fishbeds and two transport planes on the ground, “while fending off multiple” AAA and ManPad launches. In addition, during a separate strike, VF-14 planes destroyed a pair of revetted transports at an airfield “near Kabul.”

The squadron maximized forward air control flexibility by configuring five F-14Bs as “quad bombers.” Each carried four GBU-12 LGBs as marks, the remaining Tomcats being configured as “dual bombers,” each with two GBU-16s, the media dubbing these aircraft “Bombcats.” VF-14 provided only 7% of U.S. naval strike assets, but was responsible for the assessed destruction of 12% of all targets hit in Afghanistan.

During the mid watch on 9 October 2001, Enterprise became enshrouded in fog, jeopardizing both crewmembers and aircraft. But Enduring Freedom was in full swing, and an S-3B Viking from VS-24 recovered, immediately followed by the launch of an F-14B. Operations continued to increase in ferocity and tempo, and two days later, the first aircraft, an F-14B Tomcat, of the 17 aircraft of the first wave, launched for the night’s strike on Afghanistan.

Such pilots as the Taliban had refused to give battle in the air, compelling Hornets and Tomcats to strike enemy aircraft on the ground. In an interview on board Enterprise on 11 October, Captain David J.Mercer, Commander, CVW-8, described the arduous four–-to-–six hour missions as longer than any he had flown during the first Gulf War or the Kosovo crisis. That day, Enterprise set the low visibility detail with the exception of fog signals, at 0335, commencing fog signals at 0357, securing from the low visibility detail at 1749 the next day, a long period of watchfulness for the crew. That night she also launched 20 aircraft in a single cycle, her most to date in any cycle in Enduring Freedom, 2220–2310.

During these crucial operations, Enterprise produced and disseminated both the Maritime Air Tasking Order (ATO) and the Enduring Freedom ATO. In addition, she was equipped with the newly installed Pioneer Video System, enabling her to acquire real time, aircraft-to-ship video data capability. The fluid situation in Afghanistan did not allow for analysis lag times, her technicians adapting the system to allow the Carrier Intelligence Center to monitor and record the downloaded intelligence more rapidly.

Low flying aircraft ran the risk of facing AAA and SA-7 Grail and FIM-92 Stinger SAMs. However, while there was little likelihood that many of the vaunted Stingers, hundreds of which disappeared in the region following their supply to the mujahadin (Afghan warriors) during the latter’s struggle against the Marxists in the 1980s, were still operational, most aircrews were not taking chances, flying above the “Stinger envelope.”

Crewmembers often commented upon the tremendous difference e-mail made upon morale, enabling Sailors and Marines to stay in contact with loved ones at home. Another way they made their feelings felt was through “Decorating” in the “bomb farm,” chalking ordnance “up extra nice for Osama bin Laden and his Taliban cronies.”

Immediately after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, police officers from Arlington, Virginia, raised an American flag over their command post beneath an overpass on Interstate 395 in the south parking lot of the Pentagon. The flag, which waved above the post throughout their relief efforts, was flown out to Enterprise by permission of Captain Winnefeld. The crew honored the victims of 9/11 by proudly breaking out the flag, 20-–21 October 2001. However, any further time aloft would damage Old Glory in the 30-knot winds, so they lowered it until their return to Norfolk, when they again broke it out. The skipper returned the flag to Arlington’s Chief of Police Edward A. Flynn on 20 November.

At 1302 on 23 October 2001, an Iranian P-3F flew overhead, 24º49’2”N, 057º01’7”E, 31.8 NM distance from land, while Enterprise was heading 285º at 24 knots. Shortly afterward, General Tommy R. Franks, U.S.A., CentCom, visited the ship, 1417–1459.

Prior to coming about from the Arabian Sea, Enterprise unloaded most of her remaining ordnance to her relief, Theodore Roosevelt, on 25 October 2001. At 2348 on the 24th, heading into the mid watch on the 25th, SOPA was ComCarGru-3, embarked on board Enterprise. The next day the ship entered the Gulf of Aden.

At 1037 on the 27th, the AN/SPS-48E mounted IFF Antenna broke off and plummeted into the water, while Enterprise was in the Red Sea. The next day she transited the Suez Canal, 0200–-1727 on 28 October. En route her return to the U.S., Enterprise moored at Soudha Bay (29-–31 October).

At 0248 on 3 November 2001, lookouts spotted a welcome sight, a flashing light bearing 329º, 24 NM, which proved to be Cabo de Gata, Spain, knowing that once through the Strait of Gibraltar, the next stop was home. At 0445 they sighted the light on Isla de Alboran off the port side, 167º, 14 NM, setting the Special Navigation Detail at 0800 while steering 275º at 28 knots, securing at 0944.

The ABC television program Good Morning America broadcast live from Enterprise while she was still in the Atlantic, on 9 November 2001. Over two weeks of preparations went into the show, featuring the Secretary of the Navy and celebrities Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer. In addition to the Good Morning America crew, over 20 national and local media were on board to cover the carrier’s homecoming.

Enterprise returned to Norfolk on 10 November 2001. So eager was her crew to greet their loved ones following Enduring Freedom that they set the Special Sea and Anchor Detail during the mid watch, at 0350. CinCLantFlt and Com2ndFlt both visited the carrier, 0652-–0716, before returning to the cheering crowd. During the 2001 deployment CVW-8 flew 680 combat sorties, both over Iraq in support of Southern Watch and in Enduring Freedom, averaging 60–80 sorties a day during the 16 days of combat operations of the latter. The ship launched combat operations 15 hours a day to cover the nighttime 12 hour “vulnerability window,” then conducted underway replenishments during the day. During October and November, aircraft from the ship flew around the clock for 18 consecutive days, dropping over 829,150 lb of ordnance on al Qaeda and the Taliban, 770,000 of it PGMs. Included were one AIM-9M Sidewinder, one AIM-54C Phoenix, 68 AGM-65E/F Mavericks, seven GBU-10 LGBs, 266 GBU-12s, 272 GBU-16s, five GBU-24s, 75 Mk 84 GBU-31 JDAMs and 47 BLU-109 GBU-31 JDAMs. One squadron, VFA-15, flew 185 sorties for a total of 795 hours, dropping 232,000 lb of ordnance. The Enterprise CVBG contributed 29% of all U.S. strike assets during its first Enduring Freedom deployment. The ship completed 10,111 incident free launches and arrestments, catapult No. 1 reaching 135,000 lifetime shots. A total of 13,624 sorties, 8,182 day and 5,442 night, were flown from the deck of Enterprise in 2001, resulting in 28,262 flight hours, 17,495 day and 10,767 night. She steamed 90,426 NM, conducting six moorings, 22 anchorages and 48 underway replenishments.

On Friday 7 December 2001, the crew experienced the honor of piping through the ship: “United States Arriving.” During ceremonies held on board Enterprise to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet and air and military bases at Pearl Harbor, President George W. Bush named the terrorists “the heirs of fascism.”  The President also remarked that they have “the same will to power, the same disdain for the individual, the same mad global ambitions,” as the fascists, adding that terrorists cannot be appeased, but “must be defeated.” Also on board were the Secretary of the Navy, General William F. Kernan, U.S.A., Commander, Joint Forces Command (JFC), Secretary of Veterans Affairs and ComLantFlt. The President also met a number of sailors instrumental in the liberation of Afghanistan, while on board the ship.

Enterprise stood out for an ammunition offload with George Washington and ammunition ship Mount Baker (T-AE 34), 10–12 December 2001. Following her holiday leave period, she ended the year preparing for her move down the Elizabeth River to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, for a $191 million, 482 day ESDRA, making the move on 15 January 2002. Enterprise shifted from the drydock to the pier on 8 August, the crew moving back on board on 15 November, many having attended schools and/or additional training.

New Year’s Day 2003 found Enterprise moored at Berth 42/43, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, completing EDSRA, with dock trials accomplished in January. During EDSRA, VS-32 challenged V-3 Division to redesign the Maulers’ Ready Room, culminating in a new Operations Center and Internet Café. Two CIWS systems, four NATO Sea Sparrow directors and two missile launchers were all overhauled. A number of crewmembers trained at sea on board George Washington.

Also in 2003, the Integrated Fresnel Lens Optical System (IFLOS) and the Long Range Lineup Systems were both installed, “greatly enhancing” flight operations. During Multi-National Maritime Exercise (MNME) and Battle Group Sail (BG Sail), all ComCruDesGru-12 and DesRon-18 networks and communications circuits were provided pierside, while in the shipyard, while the rest of the Enterprise CVBG operated hundreds of miles out to sea.

Enterprise steamed out into the Atlantic for sea trials on 6 May 2003, returning to Norfolk the next day. The return was “short-lived,” however, as she stood out again on the 9th for flight deck certification and carrier qualifications, also completing three underway replenishments before coming back into port on 27 May. VFA-34 was embarked during these sea trials, with Joker 204, an F/A-18C Hornet, Lieutenant Commander Doug Verissimo, pilot, making the ship’s 1,000th trap since her return to sea.

From 18 June–-2 July 2003, Enterprise operated in a succession of areas: off the Virginia capes, off Cherry Point, and off Jacksonville for Total Ship Training Assessment (TSTA) I and II and for air wing carrier qualifications. She also visited Mayport, 25–26 June.

Within the span of 12 hours on 21 June 2003, SAR swimmers from HS-11, embarked in Enterprise, recovered two injured men from two different fishing vessels off the southeast coast of the U.S. The first occurred in the early dawn hours as Satisfaction, a 44-foot vessel about 90 miles off Savannah, Georgia, called for assistance for a 40-year old crewman suffering a fall resulting in a punctured lung. Although the sea was calm when the Dragonslayer HH-60H, Lieutenant William Hargreaves, pilot, Lieutenant John Van Jaarsveld, co-pilot, Lieutenant Tracy Novosel, CVW-1 flight surgeon, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class David Haven, and Aviation Warfare Systems Operators 2nd Class Thomas Buford, crewchief, Joel Sizemore and Jeremy Miller, launched shortly before 0200, by the time it arrived over the boat 28 miles away, eight-foot waves were tossing her “too much to lower anyone onto Satisfaction.” Undaunted, Miller and Sizemore entered the water, enabling the fisherman to be hoisted aloft to safety.

Returning to Enterprise at 1130, the helo received a second distress call, from 34-foot fishing vessel Tail Chaser, who had a crewman whose leg was torn up by the vessel’s propeller. Quickly refueling, the helo sprinted to the boat, this time with Lieutenant Drake H. Tilley as the wing’s flight surgeon and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Gabriel Ibarra on board. Arriving over Tail Chaser 20 minutes later, the helo maintained “a steady hover” while Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 3rd Class Charles R. Curry entered the water, making the ship’s second rescue of the day.

The “Big E” departed Norfolk for the last time in 2003 on 29 August. Completing the Inter-Deployment Training Cycle (IDTC), the crew was “well aware” of the commencement of the cruise directly from the IDTC. Enterprise conducted TSTA III and the final evaluation problem on 9 September, commencing CompTuEx the next day.

Due in part to the Navy’s transfer of Vieques Inner Range, Puerto Rico, to the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior on 1 May 2003, the group used ranges at or near Townsend, Georgia; Pinecastle, Avon Park and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and Piney Island and Dare County, North Carolina, the first CSG utilizing these ranges as part of a “comprehensive strategy.” The fleet had trained on Vieques since 1941, but after USMC aircraft accidentally dropped two 500 lb bombs on an observation tower on 19 April 1999, killing one person and injuring four others, protesters demanded an end to exercises there.

During the midst of CompTuEx, Hurricane Isabel, the “most intense hurricane of the 2003 season,” threatened the Enterprise CSG. Her METOC Division provided extended forecasts to exercise participants, enabling them to “make the timely decision” of diverting the group into the Gulf of Mexico.

Following multi-ship exercises, including underway replenishments with two ships in seven events, and daily flight operations, Enterprise turned east, beginning her deployment on 1 October 2003.  Embarked was CVW-1 (Tail Code AB), comprising VF-211 (F-14As), VFA-82 and VFA-86 (F/A-18Cs), VMFA-312 (F/A-18As), VAW-123 (E-2Cs), VAQ-137 (EA-6Bs), VS-32 (S-3Bs), VRC-40 Det 2 (C-2As), and HS-11 (SH-60Fs/HH-60Hs). Also embarked were elements of CruDesGru-12 and DesRon-18. And in an unusual twist, Argentinean destroyer Sarandi (D-13) operated with the CSG during most of the deployment.

Driving onward through the next 22 days in “a high-speed, non-stop transit,” Enterprise completed five underway replenishment with three ships. Transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on 8 October 2003, and the Suez Canal on the 13th, she transferred ammunition with Detroit on the 15th, moving through the Bab al Mandeb on the 17th, and the Strait of Hormuz, on 22 October. Upon arriving in Carrier Operating Area (CVOA) 4 in the northern Arabian Gulf, Enterprise immediately began launching aircraft supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase I. Vice Admiral David C. Nichols, Jr., ComNavCent, welcomed the ship and her crew, on 26 October.

Enterprise operated a “theater wide” C4I architecture “seamlessly” covering millions of square miles, stretching from the northern Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and deep inland over Afghanistan. This included “time-critical, focused and actionable intelligence support” to 15 different commands and task forces, aircraft from Enterprise flying over targets as far afield from each other as Iraq, Afghanistan and HOA.

At one point Enterprise had aircraft operating concurrently at opposite ends of the 5th Fleet’s AOR, with Hornets and Tomcats flying over Iraq, and two HH-60Hs from HS-11 Det X simultaneously operating with SOF of the Joint Special Warfare Det, off the deck of amphibious transport dock Ogden (LPD-5), almost 2,000 miles away. Operating primarily out of Djibouti, the latter was steaming off HOA as an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), the Dragonslayers completing 60 sorties and 150 flight hours as a quick reaction force, and providing CAS and logistical support during their 60 day det. Standing CSAR alerts and conducting training missions at ranges in Djibouti, Oman and Kuwait, the det worked with “Operators from every branch of the U.S. military.”

The ship operated in CVOA 4 until Halloween, then putting into Jebel Ali. However, after only 46 hours her visit there was unexpectedly cut short by the requirement for an emergency sortie to support OEF, on 3 November 2003, HS-11 providing armed escort ensuring safe passage out of that port.

Transiting the Strait of Hormuz eastbound on 3–4 November 2003, the ship rendezvoused with oiler Pecos (T-AO-197) for an underway replenishment on the 4th, before beginning her support of Operation Mountain Resolve, designed to destroy anti-coalition militant (ACM) organizations and their infrastructure before they could disappear into winter quarters, while steaming in the northern Arabian Sea, 5–15 November.

Soldiers of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry, Warrior Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, began Mountain Resolve by air assaulting into farm fields on the outskirts of Namgalam, a village in the eastern province of Nuristan, shortly after nightfall on 6 November 2003.  Aircrews from Enterprise were among the aircraft supporting the operation, flying “around the clock” CAS, reconnaissance and interdiction missions for five days, with HS-11 providing SAR support. VAW-123 also detached two E-2Cs in early November to Bagram, Afghanistan. VAQ-137 also deployed a detachment to Bagram, detaching as many as three EA-6Bs from Enterprise for upward of a year, both detachments enduring harassment from al Qaeda and the Taliban, combined with temperature extremes ranging from 50º–-20º day–-night.

During a combat sortie over Afghanistan, an F-14A from VF-211 diverted due to fuel transfer problems, landing at Pasni, Pakistan, without warning or support personnel. An HH-60H and an SH-60F, HS-11, were “off the deck and headed for Pasni within one hour of notification,” the Tomcat back on board the carrier within two days.

Coming about, Enterprise transited the Strait of Hormuz westbound on 16th, returning to CVOA 4, 17 November-–4 December 2003, to participate in Operation Iron Hammer, an preemptive attack on Iraqi insurgents before the latter could strike Coalition forces. Iron Hammer began partially in response to an insurgent ambush on a U.S. supply convoy north of Samara, Iraq. Terrorist gunmen also assassinated Hmud Kadhim, director general of the Education Ministry, Diwaniyah province, in the southern town of Diwaniyah. In addition, assailants wounded a pair of policemen by tossing a grenade at a police station in Mosul, and in al Basrah a roadside improvised explosive device (IED), exploded when a British civilian convoy was passing by, damaging a vehicle.

Planes from Enterprise were among those retaliating against the insurgents. At camps suspected of making IEDs, near Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, aircraft dropped a pair of 2,000 lb JDAMs, with more 1,000 pounders dropped on terrorist targets near Kirkuk. During a planned attack in the Battle of Samara “scores of Fedayeen-like troops were routed or destroyed.” This was reported as “the largest post-Saddam Hussein engagement” to date for Coalition forces. During one strike, a VF-211 F-14A suffered a “catastrophic hydraulic failure,” forcing the crew to divert to Ali Al Saleem, Kuwait, requiring three days of logistics missions flown by the Dragonslayers to support the recovery of the Tomcat.

Enterprise replenished again from Pecos, on 19 November 2003. During strikes against insurgents on 23 November, the ship’s Tactical Flag Communications Center monitored her aircraft, linking data with H.Q., 5th Fleet, and Combined Forces Air Component Commander, Qatar, in “real time,” providing “unparalleled” tactical advantages.

On 1 December 2003, Enterprise and her group participated in a unique experiment when Gettysburg launched and recovered Spartan Scout, a 23-foot RHIB unmanned surface vehicle (USV). Enterprise would normally dispatch helos to investigate potential threat returns from radar, but the cruiser utilized the USV’s camera and sensor gear during the three-hour mission to transmit data back to the flagship.

Subsequently, Enterprise visited Jebel Ali, 5–12 December 2003. Standing out on the 13th, she then operated in the northern Arabian Gulf, participating in a maritime interception orchestrated by Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 1, based upon amphibious assault ship Peleliu (LHA-5) and Coalition allies. The merger of ESG-1 and the Enterprise CSG “demonstrated two hallmarks of 21st century fighting–versatility and flexibility,” evidenced by the interception and seizure in three separate interceptions of three dhows and their 33 crewmen engaged in smuggling drugs, 15–20 December.

Making the first interception, of a 40-foot dhow, at approximately 1100 on 15 December 2003, the boarding party from guided missile destroyer Decatur (DDG-73), ESG-1, determined that the 12 crewmembers lacked “proper documentation of its nationality or cargo.” Upon further inspection, the boarders discovered 54 70 lb bags of hashish, valued at almost $10 million, the initial investigation uncovering “clear ties” between the smugglers and al Qaeda. “This capture,” noted Rear Admiral James G. Stavridis, Commander, Enterprise CSG, indicates “the need for continuing maritime patrol of the Gulf in order to stop the movement of terrorists, drugs and weapons.” Coordinating the boarding was ComDesRon-18, embarked in the “Big E.”

Three days later, on 18 December 2003, a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K located two dhows suspected of smuggling, combining with Australian, British and U.S. aircraft to track them over the following 48 hours in the north Arabian Sea. At dawn on 20 December 2003, Philippine Sea, part of the carrier’s screen, intercepted the dhows, supported by a British Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2 deployed from Kinloss, Scotland. Boarding the first dhow search teams found about 150 lb of methamphetamines, apprehending her 14 crewmen. Meanwhile, the second dhow attempted to escape, but Philippine Sea intercepted her, the cruiser’s boarding team discovering a 50 lb and 35 lb bag of heroin, seizing her seven crewmen. Video footage from a P-3C from VP-47 was also utilized to verify the smugglers and their illicit activities, including recording the crew of the second dhow throwing approximately 200 bags overboard while fleeing.

Enterprise “played a critical role” in supporting embarked staffs, particularly in the “communications and maritime picture realm,” instrumental in the two “takedowns.” The crew’s efforts were primarily responsible for coordinating the various commands identifying, tracking and seizing the smugglers and their cargoes. Two HH-60Hs from HS-11 on board the carrier were tasked “on short notice” to transport prisoners and security personnel from the intercepting ESG-1 ship to an aircraft for transportation to a detention facility.  Profits from the smugglers’ drugs, estimated as over $800 million, were suspected of financing al Qaeda terrorists, the interceptions cutting off a major source of funding for the terrorists, and eroding their support among Muslims. Captain John Locklear, Enterprise'’s operations officer, referred to the interceptions as “a whole new attack in the war on terror.” Rear Admiral Kenneth W. Deutsch, Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Force, 5th Fleet, added “The success of this operation is a true testament to the strength of coalition teamwork in the global war on terrorism.” 

After a brief holiday visit to Bahrain (21-–26 December 2003), Enterprise participated in Operation Sea Saber, with 12 other Coalition forces, designed to track and board vessels suspected of carrying WMD, in the northern Arabian Sea. A day after completion of that evolution, at 0527 on 26 December 2003, an earthquake (6.6 on the Richter Scale) struck southeastern Iran’s Kerman Province, the epicenter near the city of Bam. As many as 31,000 people perished, and tens of thousands were injured or lost their homes. The U.S. joined dozens of countries rendering assistance, with the USAF flying seven C-130s and two C-17s filled with supplies, as well as relief teams, into the region. HS-11 from Enterprise provided SAR.

At about 1930 on 2 January 2004, guided missile cruiser Gettysburg (CG-64) received a distress call from an Iraqi freighter, requesting aid for a pair of crewmen injured when a cable parted while towing another vessel. Two Dragonslayer helos responded immediately from Enterprise, with an SH-60F Seahawk, Lieutenant Commander Manuel Picon, Lieutenant Van Jaarsveld and Aviation Warfare Systems Operators’ 2nd Class Lance Crego and Curry, rescuing the pair, who received medical assistance. One of them, Atif Youssif, 36, was evacuated to the “Big E” with a fractured arm and severe chest bruises requiring additional attention, before being returned to al Basrah.

Completing two weeks of flight operations in the northern Arabian Gulf, including a mission where a pair of F/A-18C Hornets each dropped a JDAM on an Iraqi insurgent mortar position near Balad on 9 January 2004, Enterprise put into Jebel Ali, 14–-18 January, followed by additional operations off Iraq through the 26th. Daily flight schedules averaged over 100 day and night sorties over 12–-14 hour cycles, complicated by winter weather, thunderstorms, and sandstorms. Coming about to transit the Strait of Hormuz, the ship skirted the Omani and Yemeni coasts, affecting the passage of the Bab al Mandeb on 31 January. A few days later, a pair of F-14As from VF-211 collided in mid-air while maneuvering over the Red Sea on 2 February 2004. One Tomcat sustained minor damage to its right wingtip, and the other’s right vertical stabilizer was nearly sheared off. Both crews recovered safely without injuries.

Transiting the Suez Canal on 5 February 2004, Enterprise subsequently passed through the Strait of Messina to anchor off Naples, 8-–12 February.  The ship made an additional call before leaving the Med, at Cartagena, Spain, 14–-17 February, before sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar on the 18th.  She reached Mayport on 27 February 2004.

With approximately 1,500 Tigers embarked, Enterprise stood out that same day (27 February 2004) for Norfolk, arriving home on 29 February.  During the recently concluded deployment, aircrews from CVW-1 had flown 8,020 sorties, including more than 6,033 aircraft launches and recoveries in support of OEF and OIF II, maintaining an 86% mission capable rate.

From 18–-25 April 2004, Enterprise conducted successive carquals off the Virginia capes, Cherry Point, and Jacksonville, principally for VFA-106 and VAW-120. During those evolutions, on the 23rd, Dragonslayer 614 rescued a Cuban migrant floating on two inner tubes approximately 50 miles off the east coast of Cape Lookout, North Carolina.  Suffering from exposure and dehydration the man was so weak that he would otherwise “surely have perished.” During Fleetweek 2004, approximately 4,000 guests thronged the ship while she visited Port Everglades (26-–30 April), Enterprise returning to Norfolk on 3 May. Additional carquals off the Virginia and North Carolina coasts followed (18–-25 May).

Enterprise commenced Summer Pulse 04 with an eastbound transit of the Atlantic, 3-–11 June 2004, rescuing two injured Portuguese crewmen from their ship while en route, evacuating them to a medical facility. Over 65 high-level civilian and military leaders from the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference visited the ship on the 11th.

During Neo Tapon, a Spanish-hosted NATO exercise off western Europe and in the eastern Atlantic, 11-–14 June 2004, the “Big E” operated as the communications control ship. Supported by Gettysburg, guided missile destroyer Ramage (DDG-61) and Detroit, the carrier operated with British, Dutch, French, Italian, Moroccan and Portuguese forces, as well as ships from Standing Naval Forces Atlantic and Med, testing air and surface warfare and strike mission capabilities.

Steaming northward, she participated with as many as 50 ships from “multiple nations” in JMC 04-2, 19–30 June 2004, transiting The Minch off western Scotland, completing the exercise with a visit to Portsmouth, 2–6 July. Leaving British waters, Enterprise wrapped up Summer Pulse 04 off the west coast of Morocco with a pair of exercises, 10–16 July, Med Shark and Majestic Eagle, the latter orchestrated by Strike Force NATO and hosted by the Moroccans, comprising more than 20 ships and submarines from ten countries. Aircraft from the ship operated with Italian and Spanish aircraft and those from CVW-3, embarked in Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), validating Capdra Range, Morocco, for bombing training for future deployments.

Enterprise returned to Norfolk on 23 July 2004. After her return, the ship hosted visits by over 50 National Defense University International Fellows, followed a few days later by 75 veterans of Operation Sea Orbit. Enterprise began an ESRA on 14 August 2004, mooring to Double Pier No. 6, Naval Station, Norfolk, on 2 September, the first such mooring at non-carrier piers there, corroborating pier installation of shipboard services and providing port operations flexibility in mooring larger deep draft vessels. She then proceeded to Outfitting Berth No. 1, Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipyard, commencing primary work on the 7th. During ESRA the installation fore and aft of the RIM-116A Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) System, a lightweight quick-reaction “fire-and-forget” missile designed to counter anti-ship missiles attacking in waves or streams, was the biggest “event.” Additional ship combat systems upgrades included the Automated Digital Network System and the Extremely High Frequency Follow-on Terminal. Many changes in manning and watchstanding procedures for the Navigation Department resulted from the disestablishment of the Signalman (SM) rating, including reducing the department from 39 sailors in 2003 to 17 in 2004. Transitioning from a chemical-base film processing system to a digital imagery acquisition system, the photo lab produced nearly half of all photographs with a chemical-free process by year’s end.

Enterprise steamed over 50,000 NM during 2004, completing 10 underway replenishments. During the year, CVW-1 sent detachments ashore to Ireland and the Canary Islands. And demonstrating the unique contributions of the electronic medium, over 4,000,000 e-mails were sent by Enterprise crewmembers and 4,000,000 received during the year.

Enterprise is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Detailed history under construction.

Mark L. Evans

12 September 2005

Published: Wed Jul 08 07:55:00 EDT 2015