John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk on 16 April 1973 and dropped anchor at Rota on 25 April, relieving Intrepid (CVS-11). The next day, she hosted Spanish Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sophia, during which visit the 35-year old heir apparent to the Spanish throne commented upon not only the complexity of carrier operations, but the cleanliness of the ship in which he was embarked. CVW-1 performed an air show for the royal guests and then the ship got underway for the Strait of Gibraltar.
John F. Kennedy spent the next five months of 1973 operating with the Sixth Fleet, her port visits including Barcelona and Palma, Formia, Italy, Augusta Bay, Gaeta, Souda Bay, Rhodes, Athens, and Livorno. Her period of routine operations, exercises, and underway replenishments, was punctuated by the ship losing her 301-ton starboard anchor (and 180 fathoms of chain) at Cannes on 1 June. She regained it, with the help of the salvage vessel Opportune (ARS-41) a week later. At Palma on 2 September, John F. Kennedy’s fire and rescue detail extinguished an engine room fire on board a nearby yacht.
After transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on 22 September 1973, John F. Kennedy paused briefly at Rota (23-24 September), relieved by Franklin D. Roosevelt, before she got underway to proceed to the North Sea. Transiting the English Channel on 30 September, the carrier crossed the Arctic Circle on 4 October during NATO exercise Swift Move, a nine-day evolution that combined the efforts of more than 20,000 men, 34 ships, and 250 land and sea-based aircraft from Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Afterwards, on 10 October 1973, John F. Kennedy put in to Edinburgh, Scotland, where, the following day, a fire in a storeroom damaged steam pipe lagging and electrical wiring for her number three catapult – with all repairs completed by the ship’s force within 72 hours.
John F. Kennedy had originally been slated to return home after her three-day visit in Edinburgh, but another crisis in the Middle East reared its head when Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel on 6 October 1973 in The Yom Kippur War. Accordingly, John F. Kennedy sailed from Edinburgh on 13 October in company with guided missile frigate Dale (DLG-19), guided missile destroyer Richard E. Byrd (DDG-23), and destroyer Sarsfield (DD-837), supported by the oiler Caloosahatchee (AO-98). The carrier and her consorts proceeded to a holding area 100 miles west of Gibraltar, to assume an alert position to respond to the crisis in the Middle East.
On 25 October 1973, the day after the completion of the program to fly A-4 Skyhawks to Israel, staging them through the Azores and Franklin D. Roosevelt (on station south of Sicily) John F. Kennedy (which had been earmarked to support those flights if required), received orders to rejoin the 6th Fleet, and entered the Mediterranean. The ship’s entering the Med reflected the middle-level alert ordered for U.S. forces world-wide after the Soviet Union reportedly planned a unilateral move of troops into the Middle East to monitor the shaky cease-fire that had taken effect in the wake of the most recent conflict between Israel and her neighbors. John F. Kennedy prepared contingency weapons loads on 27 October.
As tensions in the region remained high, the carrier remained at sea into mid-November 1973, operating south of Crete, day and night, with task groups formed around Independence (CVA-62) and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and refueled by the fast combat support ship Seattle (AOE-3) (4 November), and old consort Pawcatuck (9 and 12 November), after which point she put in briefly to Souda Bay on 15 November, only to get underway once more before the day was done. The 6th Fleet resumed its normal alert status on 17 November, however, and the next day, “the ship, normally busily noisy, fell silent” as Captain Dixon informed the crew over the 1MC that John F. Kennedy was finally going home. “With a return date in sight,” her historian wrote, “the crew looked forward to their homecoming and reunion with their families, loved ones, and friends.” The ship, her “second” Med cruise of the deployment completed, transited the Strait of Gibraltar on 22 November, and moored to the familiar Pier 12 on 1 December.
John F. Kennedy conducted local operations out of Norfolk to start the year 1974, spending two short periods in January and February participating in operations off the Virginia capes. On 1 March, she got underway from Pier 12 and shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard; a fortnight later, on 15 March 1974, she shifted to dry dock no. 8, where she would remain well into June.
Among the major projects undertaken over the ensuing months to provide the carrier with ASW capabilities and enable her to conduct combined air, surface and sub-surface warfare were the installation of the Tactical Support Center (TSC), designed as a module of the combat information center (CIC), to provide pre-flight planning, in-flight support, post-flight analysis, and mission evaluation for all ASW missions flown by the new Grumman S-3A Vikings and Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopters; the satellite read-out equipment (SROE), to provide the tactical commander and his meteorologist “real time” weather data acquired and transmitted by the defense meteorological satellite system; and the versatile avionics shop test (VAST), an enhanced aircraft maintenance facility. In addition, since each embarked type of jet presented a unique problem to the ship’s aircraft-handling capability, the new Grumman F-14 Tomcat’s exhaust being hotter than that of the other aircraft’s and the S-3A’s higher than any other embarked plane’s due to the position of its engines, for example, the jet blast deflectors needed to be rebuilt to provide a larger protective surface and an improved cooling capability.
During this overhaul, John F. Kennedy experienced a turnover of people, too, of approximately 60 percent. Among those leaving was Captain Dixon, relieved on 24 May 1974 by Captain William A. Gureck.
John F. Kennedy left dry dock at the end of June 1974, and remained in yard hands into late October, at the end of which time she conducted a fast cruise. On 12 November, she put to sea for her first post repair trial, and the following day recovered a VF-32 Tomcat (Modex 204, BuNo 159015) flown by Commander Jerry G. Knutson and Lieutenant (j.g.) David C. “Davy” Leestma, the first F-14 to land on board. Upon completion of those trials, John F. Kennedy returned to the yard and wrapped up her overhaul on 25 November, one week earlier than scheduled. On 26 November, she returned to Pier 12, Naval Station, Norfolk. The ship was redesignated from CVA-67 to CV-67 effective 1 December 1974.
John F. Kennedy spent the first six months of 1975 preparing for a return to the Med. From 6-20 January 1975, she conducted refresher training out of Guantanamo, punctuating it with a visit to Montego Bay, Jamaica, before she returned to Norfolk. On 6 February, Rear Admiral Ronald J. Hays, ComCarGru 4, broke his flag in John F. Kennedy. The carrier then got underway on 19 February for the Jacksonville operating area, to qualify her own CVW-1 and Marine Air Group (MAG) 32. On 22 February, John F. Kennedy recovered an S-3A from Air Anti-Submarine Squadron (VS) 21 in the first carrier landing of a fleet-assigned Viking. Returning to Norfolk on 28 February, the ship then conducted two stints of type training in the Virginia capes operating area (4-14 March and 18-28 March).
Underway on 7 April 1975, John F. Kennedy sailed for the Jacksonville operating area for a third stint of type training, during which, on 9 April, Commander Melvin E. Taunt, commanding officer of HS-11 (who had had to make an emergency landing in a farmer’s field in North Carolina just three days earlier after a massive transmission oil leak in his SH-3D), made an emergency water landing when another major oil leak forced him to ditch about seven miles from the ship, which recovered the downed Sea King in less than two hours with minimal damage. The following day, Major General Sayed Javad of the Imperial Iranian Air Force, came on board to observe F-14 Tomcat operations.
On 15 April 1975, John F. Kennedy sailed to participate in Agate Punch, an amphibious exercise conducted in the vicinity of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. She also hosted a succession of visitors during that time that included not only flag officers but novelist Herman Wouk (21 April). John F. Kennedy’s air wing participated in multi-faceted operations during Agate Punch that ranged from air defense of the task force, ASW, and supporting a landing force. The evolution was designed to test the carrier’s close air support capability, but also provided the ship an opportunity to test the CV concept, as she operated continuously for 253 hours in an air, surface and sub-surface threat environment, recording 961 arrested landings. Tragically, in the closing phases of the exercises, on 25 April, a VA-34 Intruder crashed, killing Lieutenant (jg) Arthur K. Bennett III; Bennett’s bombardier/navigator, however, ejected and was safely recovered.
Following a fourth stint of type training, off Jacksonville, John F. Kennedy departed Mayport on 10 May 1975 to return to Norfolk; that day, an unsuccessful catapult launch cost VA-34 a KA-6D. Two Sea Kings from HS-11, one flown by Lieutenant Jon R. Jensen and Ensign Mark A. Hansen, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3d Class D.S. Thompson as rescue crewman, the other by Lieutenant Michael L. Hoppus and Ensign Rodney H. Trump, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3d Class W.S. Ewell and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Airman E.L. Lawson embarked, rescued the pilot and bombardier/navigator.
With only a month left before her Med deployment, John F. Kennedy then took part in Solid Shield, a joint exercise designed to prepare Atlantic Command Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Headquarters for joint combat/amphibious operations, from 27 May to 6 June 1975. After the exercise concluded, she returned to Norfolk and remained there until 28 June. During this time, Rear Admiral Hays hauled down his flag and on 27 June, Rear Admiral Justin E. Langille III, Commander Cruiser Destroyer Group (ComCruDesGru) 12, broke his flag on board.
John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk on the afternoon of 28 June 1975 with CVW-1, consisting of nine squadrons: two of F-14A Tomcats (VF-14 and VF-32); two of A-7B Corsairs (VA-46 and VA-72); one of A-6E Intruders (VA 34); one of EA-6B Prowlers (VAQ -133); one of E-2C Hawkeyes (VAW-125); one of S-3A Vikings (VS-21); and one of SH-3D Sea Kings (HS-11), embarked. RVAH-1 was also assigned to the air wing, but due to deck congestion, was not embarked, remaining on alert in Key West, Florida, ready to deploy if needed.
The highlight of John F. Kennedy’s voyage to Rota occurred on Independence Day, 4 July 1975, when an E-2C Hummer from VAW-125 detected two Soviet Tu-95 Bear-Ds. They overflew the ship approximately 400 nautical miles west of the coast of Spain. Ironically, with all of CVW-1’s Tomcats temporarily “down” due to engine problems, the lot of interception fell to Corsairs, two A-7Bs from VA-46 and two from VA-72, the latter being flown by Lieutenant Michael Akin and Lieutenant (j.g.) Terry Rogers. The next day, the ship began a final cycle of refresher training prior to joining the 6th Fleet; during the second day of such work, 6 July, Lieutenant Commander Ronald T. Mears, of VA-46, had to bail out of his A-7B Corsair (side number 306) (BuNo 154487) five miles astern of the ship when his engine flamed out about 50 miles west of Rota. The Sea King piloted by Lieutenant Commander William C. Hunter and Lieutenant (j.g.) Trump, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 1st Class Wilmoth and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Airman R.A. Arkie as rescue crewmen, had Mears in sight in six minutes, and recovered him, uininjured, two minutes later.
John F. Kennedy anchored at Rota on 7 July 1975. There, she relieved Franklin D. Roosevelt and in-chopped to the 6th Fleet; she began Mediterranean operations on 14 July, exercising with units of the Spanish Air Defense and Tactical Air Commands, and USAF units stationed in Spain. On 19 July, while anchored at Augusta Bay, Rear Admiral Langille hauled down his flag and Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, Commander Task Force 60, broke his flag in John F. Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy got underway from Augusta Bay on 5 August 1975. That day, an F-14A Tomcat (Camelot 100) (BuNo 159007) from VF-14 crashed after the ship’s number four arresting gear damper failed; Lieutenant Commander Carlton L. Lavinder, Jr., the pilot, and Lieutenant Bartholomew J. Recame, the NFO, both ejected safely. An SH-3D piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) William E. Hoffman and Lieutenant Commander Marvin E. Hobbs, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3d Class R.M. Davis and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Airman S.R. Northcutt, rescued Lavinder and Recame and returned them to the ship.
Following her participation in National Week exercises during the first part of August 1975, during which time contingency forces were maintained for the potential evacuation of the approximately 100 U.S. government employees and 1,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon during strife in that country, John F. Kennedy visited Bari, Italy, on 16 August. When high winds and heavy seas resulted in the cancellation of liberty for three days, the carrier’s embarked helicopters from HS-11 airlifted the 900-man liberty party and 12,000 pounds of mail between the fleet landing and the ship on 20-21 August.
Subsequently, John F. Kennedy conducted another cycle of operations before putting in to Naples on 27 August 1975 for a ten-day port visit, after which she returned to the eastern Med to prepare for Deep Express, a major NATO exercise that occurred in the Aegean Sea and on Turkish soil (22-27 September). With tensions in Lebanon still high, John F. Kennedy arrived at Kithira Anchorage, Greece, on 28 September on 36-hour alert for possible evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon. During that time, the carrier stood ready to provide Marine and amphibious task group commanders with intelligence support needed to prepare for such operations that, fortunately, the situation did not ultimately require.
Following a port call at Catania, Sicily (1-3 October 1975), John F. Kennedy participated in a National Week exercise with Italian and other NATO forces (4-8 October), and then transited to the Strait of Messina (9-13 October), and, ultimately, reached Naples, out of which she conducted cyclic operations in the Tyrrhenian Sea during the latter part of October and in mid-November.
During the third such cycle of operations that began on 19 November 1975, on 22 November, at 2159 local time, the guided missile cruiser Belknap (CG-26), while maneuvering to take her station on John F. Kennedy during the night’s last recovery operations, collided with her approximately 70 nautical miles east of Sicily. On board the carrier, a severe fuel fire blazed up on the port side, and on her flight deck. Flight deck firefighters contained the fire there inside of 10 minutes, but a fire in a receiving room burned below for several hours. At one point, heavy smoke forced the evacuation of all the carrier’s fire rooms, forcing her to go dead in the water. Temporarily hors de combat, John F. Kennedy diverted all flights to Naval Air Facility Sigonella, with the exception of her embarked SH-3Ds from HS-11 that supported the unfolding rescue and relief operations.
John F. Kennedy’s overhanging angled deck, however, had ripped into Belknap’s superstructure from her bridge aft as the cruiser passed beneath it. JP-5 fuel from ruptured lines in the port catwalk sprayed onto severed electrical wiring in her gaping wound. Flames engulfed the damaged areas of the cruiser, and within minutes, Belknap’s entire amidships superstructure was an inferno. Shortly after the fire began, boats from other vessels operating with John F. Kennedy and Belknap began to pull alongside the burning ship, often with complete disregard for their own safety. Ammunition from Belknap’s three-inch ready storage locker, located amidships, cooked off, hurling fiery fragments into the air and splashing around the rescue boats. Undaunted, the rescuers pulled out the seriously wounded and delivered fire-fighting supplies to the sailors who refused to surrender their ship to the conflagration. Guided missile destroyer Claude V. Ricketts and destroyer Bordelon (DD-881) moved in on both sides of Belknap, their men directing fire hoses into the amidships area that the stricken ship’s crew could not reach. Claude V. Ricketts moved in and secured alongside Belknap’s port side, and evacuated the injured while fragments from exploding ammunition showered down upon her weather decks. Frigate Pharris (FF-1094) closed in the carrier’s port side to provide fire-fighting assistance.
Among the acts of heroism on board John F. Kennedy were those that earned recommended citations to Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) 3d Class Raymond A. Pabon, Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) Airman William L. Snyder, and Aviation Structural Mechanic (Hydraulics) 3d Class Harold T. Collier from VF-32. Airman James D. Lunn, of VA-72, having been issued an oxygen breathing apparatus, grabbed a hose and climbed up three levels to the source of a fire. Perceiving a dull red-orange glow of burning tires within the thick black smoke, Lunn trained his hose upon it until an explosion blew him backwards through a hatch, depositing him three decks below in a foot of water. He was taken to sickbay, where the carrier’s medical people treated his burned hands and lacerated right ear.
Sadly, John F. Kennedy lost one man, Yeoman 2d Class David A. Chivalette of CVW-1, to smoke inhalation; two men from VA-72 (one of whom was the aforementioned Airman Lunn), suffered injuries. Belknap lost seven men; 23 suffered serious injuries. HS-11’s Sea Kings flew over 36 hours of support flights, transferring 88 men, including 17 litter patients and 60 hurt, but ambulatory, sailors. Ultimately towed to Philadelphia, Belknap was decommissioned and rebuilt.
The next day, Rear Admiral Donald D. Engen, Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, embarked to conduct an investigation into the collision; and on 24 November 1975, having been deemed “operationally capable,” John F. Kennedy resumed flight operations in the Tyrrhenian Sea, using catapults one and two, while repairs proceeded on catapults three and four. The ship’s Fresnel lens having been destroyed in the collision with Belknap and the fire that ensued, John F. Kennedy’s landing signal officers employed a manually operated visual landing aid system (MOVLAS) rigged on the starboard side abreast the island. VA-72’s historian noted that the “boarding rates of all air wing pilots stayed consistently near 100%.” Admiral Engen convened a formal investigation on the morning of 25 November.
John F. Kennedy arrived at Naples the following day, where there was, as VA-72’s scribe put it quite rightly, “a little relaxation for a deserving crew.” Three days into that port visit, on 29 November 1975, Captain John R. C. Mitchell relieved Captain Gureck.
Putting to sea again on 4 December, John F. Kennedy conducted cyclic operations in the western Med (4-8 and 14 December) that book-ended a visit to Palma (9-13 December) and preceded a Poop Deck exercise with Spanish forces (15-16 December) and conducted Corsair strike and interdiction missions against French targets as well as CAP missions, and Tomcat interceptions of raiding Mirages and Jaguars (17-18 December). John F. Kennedy wound up those operations with CVW-1 conducting Phiblex 6-76, delivering live ordnance against the Capodanna target peninsula, simulating close air support for amphibious landings.
John F. Kennedy ultimately reached Barcelona on 22 December 1975. She spent Christmas there, and two on 27 December, returned to sea to begin a cycle of three days of flight operations to maintain pilot proficiency, after which she returned to Barcelona, where she remained over New Year’s.
John F. Kennedy resumed operations on 5 January 1976, and conducted air operations in the western Med until 11 January, among the evolutions occurring being those familiarizing French forces with the F-14A, while receiving the first operational look at the Dassault Mirage F.1. That day, John F. Kennedy began a five-day port visit to Malaga before getting underway to outchop from the Med on 16 January. John F. Kennedy conducted her turnover with Saratoga off Rota the following day and then began the voyage back to Norfolk.
During the voyage home, John F. Kennedy went on alert when a flight of two Bears neared the ship. Three E-2C’s maintained airborne radar contact and intercept control while two F-14s flew intercept and escort missions, providing the Soviet airmen with a demonstration of the capabilities of the newest naval fighter in the U.S. Navy’s inventory. The Bears retired and John F. Kennedy recovered her alert aircraft.
John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk on 27 January 1976, and over the ensuing months received systems upgrades and engaged in intensive training. She received an interim tactical flag command center (ITFCC) and compartmented mode processing system (CMPS) equipment, serving as the test bed for both; her efforts proved beneficial to the enhancement of carrier operational systems.
During type training from 23 June to 2 July 1976, John F. Kennedy operated with the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. During a second period of such evolutions, John F. Kennedy “entertained” a less welcome (but not altogether unfamiliar) kind of guest. On 21 July, two separate reconnaissance flights by pairs of Bears came into contact with the carrier. F-14’s escorted them, and many of the crewmen topside observed the Bears and their Tomcat escorts appear on the horizon aft of John F. Kennedy and fly along the starboard side approximately four nautical miles away.
On 2 September 1976, John F. Kennedy got underway for a North Atlantic deployment, with CVW-1 (VF-14 and VF-32, VA-34, VA-46 and VA-72, VS-32, VAW-125, VAQ-133, HS-11 and Light Photographic Squadron (VFP) 63) embarked, to participate in Joint Effort (3-10 September), Teamwork 1976 (10-23 September), and Bonded Item (8-10 October). These three major fleet exercises, involving approximately 200 ships from participating NATO countries, practiced and updated NATO operating procedures and provide practical applications of established command and control policies. Visits to a succession of ports: Edinburgh, (25 September – 1 October), Wilhelmshaven, Germany (4-7 October), Portsmouth, England (18-24 October), and Brest, France (27-29 October), punctuated the periods of operations at sea.
Bears reflected Soviet interest in Teamwork 1976, and on 12 September 1976 Lieutenant (j.g.) William H. “Wally” Baker and Lieutenant Davy Leestma of VF-32 intercepted the first such overflight 400 nautical miles west of Ireland. They escorted the Bear as it made one low pass over the ship and followed it until it was out of range. A VFP-63 Vought RF-8G Crusader took photographs of the Bear to commemorate the occasion.
Two days later, on 14 September 1976, VF-32 lost a Tomcat some 60 nautical miles north of Scotland when an F-14 experienced “runaway engines” and began to skid across the flight deck. Lieutenant John L. “Lew” Kosich, the pilot (CVW-1 staff), mindful of the pack of aircraft spotted forward, alertly steered the Tomcat toward the deck edge. Just prior to the F-14 going over the side into 315 fathoms of water, Lieutenant (j.g.) Louis E. “Les” Seymour, the NFO, initiated command ejection, and both men landed on the flight deck with minor injuries. Three sailors from the flight deck crew suffered injuries in the mishap with the rampaging Tomcat, but recovered. Intensive deep-water salvage operations recovered most of the F-14A and the missile it carried.
That same day at 2336, her old consort Bordelon reported losing steering control during night refueling operations while alongside and veered into John F. Kennedy. None of the men on board the carrier suffered injuries and the damage to her hull was minimal. However, Bordelon suffered extensive superstructure damage and injuries to six men. Fortunately, no fires resulted and Bordelon continued under her own power. As it had done during the Belknap incident the previous autumn, HS-11 flew night medical evacuation missions in support of the relief efforts in the wake of the collision.
Soviet interest in the NATO exercises continued, as Bears reconnoitered John F. Kennedy and her task force on four more occasions. Badgers conducted surveillance flights on 18 and 21 September 1976, while the carrier logged the nearby presence of the oceanographic research vessels Arkhipelag and Pelorus as they carried out “tattletale operations,” and a Kresta II-class guided missile cruiser.
On 21 September 1976, John F. Kennedy, operating in the North Atlantic waters off Norway, entered the Arctic Sea. To commemorate this auspicious occasion, Boreas Rex, Ruler of the North Wind, bestowed to all on board John F. Kennedy the renowned “Order of the Blue Nose.” To reflect this distinction, the carrier later stood into Norfolk with her bull nose painted blue.
During Bonded Item, John F. Kennedy landed several French Vought F-8 Crusaders on board as part of an exchange program, and on 26 October 1976, VF-32 flew mock engagements against their Gallic adversaries. As that squadron’s historian reflected later, “this type of dissimilar flying provided valuable aircrew training.”
John F. Kennedy began her return transit to Norfolk on 30 October 1976 and arrived on 9 November. After her return, she underwent an inspection and survey from 15-19 November, and then moored alongside Pier 12, where she remained for the rest of 1976.
John F. Kennedy sailed for the Mediterranean on 15 January 1977, with CVW-1 (the same squadrons with which she had deployed the previous summer and autumn) reaching Rota on 26 January and conducting turnover procedures with Nimitz (CVN-68). The next day, Rear Admiral Carroll, ComCarGru 2, and Commander, TF 60, transferred his flag from Nimitz to John F. Kennedy. On 29 January, the carrier changed operational control from 2nd Fleet to 6th Fleet.
John F. Kennedy then participated in NATO Exercise Locked Gate 1977 (29 January – 12 February 1977) that involved 40 ships from Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Spain. The evolution, involving coordinated air, surface and subsurface operations, and all aspects of electronic warfare, demonstrated NATO’s resolve and ability to maintain control of the Strait of Gibraltar and deny access to the Med to hostile forces as well as protect allied countries along the rim of the North Atlantic. During Locked Gate, F-14As from CVW-1 intercepted a pair of Bear-Ds (“Bear Deltas”) southwest of Gibraltar in the Gulf of Cadiz on 5 February and escorted them during the time they were operating within 100 nautical miles of the ship.
After a stay at Naples (12-28 February 1977), brief operations in the Ionian Sea, and a return visit to Naples, John F. Kennedy participated in National Week XXII (22-26 March). John F. Kennedy and her consorts, representing Blue (friendly) forces, “battled” Orange (hostile) forces in the form of Franklin D. Roosevelt and her air wing, Semmes (DDG-18), Claude V. Ricketts, Basilone (DD-824), and another old consort, Sarsfield. At the conclusion of the maneuvers, Blue and Orange forces anchored at Augusta Bay for the post-exercise critique conducted on board John F. Kennedy. After the conclusion of National Week XXII, John F. Kennedy became the first U.S. carrier to call at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia (28 March to 2 April 1977).
John F. Kennedy returned to Naples on 6 April 1977, and remained there until 19 April to participate in the joint NATO and Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) Exercise Shahbaz 1977 involving U.S. 6th Fleet units, the Imperial Iranian Air Force, Pakistani Air Force, Turkish Air Force, United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, U.S. Air Force Europe and NATO’s 6th Allied Tactical Air Force. Shahbaz 1977 exercised the air defenses of the CENTO participants and to develop coordination of the CENTO air defense system with that of NATO.
Following Shahbaz 1977, John F. Kennedy conducted flight operations in the Aegean until 30 April 1977; she then sailed for Egypt. From 2-6 May, John F. Kennedy paid a visit to Alexandria. Rear Admiral Robert F. Schoultz, ComCarGru 2, and Captain Mitchell attended a wreath laying ceremony at Egypt’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 2 May. Two days later, John F. Kennedy hosted Loubna Sadat, daughter of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
John F. Kennedy sailed from Alexandria on 6 May 1977, and proceeded thence to Augusta Bay, Sicily, arriving on 8 May to replace her starboard anchor which had been lost on 26 March during the debriefing of National Week XXII. From 10-16 May, she participated in an ASW exercise, Dawn Patrol 1977, that combined ASW, photographic reconnaissance, and electronic warfare support, with surface and subsurface search coordination. Punctuating her participation in these evolutions, an RF-8G (Modex AB 601) from VFP-63, Detachment 2, crashed at sea immediately after launch on 11 May east of Sicily. Lieutenant Commander James S. Ozbirn, the pilot, officer in charge of the detachment, escaped injury and was retrieved by an SH-3D. Three days later, on 14 May, Captain Jerry O. Tuttle relieved Captain Mitchell as commanding officer of the ship.
Following Dawn Patrol, John F. Kennedy anchored in Naples for a port visit (17 May - 1 June 1977), during which time many of the crew’s family members arrived via charter flights. Many dependents flew over by chartered jet to enjoy Naples and Italy with their men while an equal number of sailors returned to the United States for leave. The charter flight afforded many families the opportunity to be reunited for a brief time during the six and a half month deployment.
John F. Kennedy got underway on 1 June 1977 for operations in the western Med. On 2 June, while refueling alongside oiler Marias, the two ships conducted an emergency breakaway after the destroyer Hawkins (DD-873), refueling on the other side of Marias, collided with the auxiliary. Happily, the carrier managed to avoid the oiler and damage to Marias and Hawkins proved minimal.
After a port visit at Barcelona from 6-14 June 1977, operations at Salto Di Quirra Range on 16-17 June, a 36-hour exercise interjected into a 62-hour ASW operating period, and a 13-day port visit in Palma De Mallorca starting 23 June, John F. Kennedy began operations on 5 July in the western Med. After providing close air support for PhiblEx 7-77 (evaluating E-2C control of assault helicopters in an amphibious landing), the carrier visited Malaga (13-19 July).
On 19 July 1977, John F. Kennedy then proceeded to Rota where, from 19-22 July, she conducted turnover proceedings with Saratoga. Rear Admiral Schoultz, ComCarGru 2/CTF 60 broke his flag in Saratoga on 21 July, telling the crew of his former flagship: “The overall performance of JFK throughout the deployment has been outstanding and their accomplishments many. The combat and material readiness of the ship is higher than ever before and set a hallmark of excellence for all CVs to obtain.” Rear Admiral William B. Warwick, ComCarGru 4, broke his flag in John F. Kennedy later that day and the ship got underway, transitioning from 6th Fleet to 2nd Fleet operational control. During the transit home, the carrier was reconnoitered by a pair of Bear-Ds in the western Atlantic, intercepted and escorted, as before, by air wing F-14As while within 100 nautical miles of the ship. On 1 August 1977, John F. Kennedy moored at Pier 12; she remained there for the remainder of the year.
On 3 January 1978, Vice Admiral Howard E. Greer, Commander, Naval Air Force, Atlantic Fleet, arrived and awarded John F. Kennedy the Atlantic Fleet Battle Efficiency “E” for battle readiness. For the rest of January until 29 June, the ship carried out training and qualifying programs in local waters, interspersed with in-port upkeep. On 29 June 1978, with CVW-1 (VF-14 and VF-32, VA-34, VA-46 and VA-72, VAW-125, VS-32, VAQ-133, VFP-63, and HS-11) embarked, she began another voyage to the Med, one day of which (3 July 1978) found her under surveillance by old comrades, Soviet Bear-D’s, that in turn found themselves watched by Tomcats.
On 9 July 1978, John F. Kennedy reached Rota and conducted a turnover with Nimitz. Three days later, she sailed for Naples, proceeding via the Gulf of Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar, arriving at her destination on the morning of 17 July. She left Naples on 20 July to participate in three exercises: BuzzardEx 78, National Week XXV, and ASW Week 8-78, which ran consecutively until 4 August, after which the ship visited Trieste, Italy (6-12 August). She then conducted flight operations in the highly restricted airspace of the Adriatic. Following a brief stop on 19 August in Souda Bay, the carrier transited the Strait of Messina on 21 August and anchored at Naples on the morning of 22 August, commencing a 13-day port call.
John F. Kennedy sailed on 4 September 1978 to conduct an eight-day sea period, during which time she engaged in missile exercises. On the morning of 12 September, she anchored at Alexandria, where she remained until 18 September, when she sailed for a return visit to Naples. The morning after she arrived, John F. Kennedy hosted a NATO Day guest cruise, returning to port the same night.
John F. Kennedy left Naples on the morning of 27 September 1978 to participate in Display Determination 1978, a NATO exercise took place on 11 October and simulated an amphibious landing in northern Greece, after which time the ship arrived at Taranto, Italy, to begin a five-day port visit.
Next, the ship anchored briefly at Souda Bay on 18 October 1978, before she got underway to conduct missile exercises; she later proceeded on to anchor on 24 October at Palma. There she commenced a two week port visit, highlighted by another dependents’ charter flight which brought many loved ones to Spain from the United States and vice versa. John F. Kennedy began exercises with the Spanish Armed Forces on 7 November 1978. Together, they conducted air strike exercises, air-to-air combat exercises and anti-submarine warfare exercises. On 22 November, John F. Kennedy participated in similar exercises with the French Air Force.
John F. Kennedy arrived at Barcelona, Spain, on 27 November 1978, where, the following day, 28 November 1978, Captain Lowell R. Myers relieved Captain Tuttle. As the carrier’s new commanding officer was beginning his tour, CVW-1 was conducting dissimilar air combat training with USAF units from Zaragoza Air Base. From 26 November to 4 December, the Air Force pilots taught the navy fighter crews lessons in the dynamics of high speed, multi-plane scenarios with adversaries of similar performance and expertise.
John F. Kennedy left Barcelona on 4 December 1978. After missile exercises at Salto di Quirra Range near Sardinia and flight operations off the coast of Spain, the carrier anchored at Valencia, Spain, on 9 December for a port visit. She left for Naples on 17 December, conducted bombing sorties at Capo Teulada, Sardinia, evaluated the readiness and effectiveness of air and surface weapons systems against ex-Thornhill (DE-195) and returned to Naples on 21 December to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve there. John F. Kennedy sailors installed a new roof over an orphanage, donated toys, and hosted a Christmas party for the children.
John F. Kennedy got underway on 8 January 1979 and arrived at Malaga four days later. En route, she conducted ASW exercises and refresher flight training. On the evening of 24 January 1979, John F. Kennedy weighed anchor and proceeded to Rota, arriving there the following day. The next day, she conducted exercises with her relief, Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), and on 28 January, headed for Norfolk, Rear Admiral Robert L. Walters, Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Group 8, breaking his flag in the ship for the homeward voyage. She brought her deployment to a close on 8 February when she moored alongside a snow-covered Pier 12. Three days after the carrier’s return, a fire, later determined to have been caused by a leaking steam line igniting flammable material, broke out aft on the 03 level in a living compartment. It was put out in about an hour’s time.
John F. Kennedy got underway from Pier 12 on 6 March 1979 and spent that day offloading her conventional ordnance. The next day, she hosted about 500 dependents and shipyard workers as she shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. John F. Kennedy moved to dry dock no. 8 on 19 March for her major overhaul. During the ensuing yard period, the ship’s tactical support center was redesignated as an anti-submarine warfare module, and an integrated carrier acoustic prediction system was installed. NATO Sea Sparrow missile system replaced all three BPDMS launchers and fire control directors. Ship’s radars were either updated or changed. Carrier air traffic control was improved with automatic data readouts, which enhanced controller efficiency and response time. Even food service, air conditioning and laundry facilities were bettered.
From early April until mid-July 1979, John F. Kennedy, the normal shipyard routine progressed uneventfully until an unknown arsonist set a series of fires on 9 April 1979. John F. Kennedy responded quickly and minimized the damage to only 38 compartments during six hours’ work at general quarters, but William L. Seward, a civilian yard employee, died. Another series of arson incidents occurred on 5 June, the crew controlling the blazes within two hours with no reported injuries. John F. Kennedy doubled security watches to prevent a recurrence. On 14 July, the carrier shifted from drydock to Pier 5 for the remainder of her yard work.
John F. Kennedy conducted a fast cruise and held dockside trials on 5 December 1979. Six days later, the carrier got underway; she spent the remainder of the year 1979 and the first half of 1980 preparing for her next deployment. After post-repair trials and refresher training out of Guantanamo, a seven-day visit to Boston for OpSail 80 festivities, and a change of command ceremony on 27 June when Captain Diego E. Hernandez relieved Captain Tuttle, the carrier steamed for the Med on 8 August 1980, with CVW-1 (with VAW-126 and VAQ-138 having replaced VAW-125 and VAQ-133 in the composition, the other squadrons remaining the same) on board.
En route, Tomcats from CVW-1 intercepted a Bear-D on 14 August 1980. Three days later, John F. Kennedy arrived at Malaga to relieve Saratoga. That same day, John F. Kennedy left Malaga for Toulon. She arrived on 22 August for a four-day port visit. After her visit, the carrier set sail for operations in the western Med en route to Naples. While at sea, the carrier conducted large-scale strike planning exercises with the French Air Force.
On the morning of 5 September 1980, John F. Kennedy anchored at Naples for an eight-day port visit. She got underway on 13 September for three days of operations and returned to Naples for two days of anchorage training. She left Naples on 17 September for the five-day National Week XXIX exercise in the central Med, exercises that soon assumed a quality of reality when Libyan Air Force planes engaged in an unprecedented number of sorties in the vicinity of John F. Kennedy’s Battle Group over international waters. On 19 September, F-14’s under E-2 control intercepted two Libyan sections, and six and eighteen sections, respectively, on 20 and 21 September.
After pausing briefly at Augusta Bay on 23 September 1980, John F. Kennedy headed for Barcelona. She arrived two days later, completing rigorous flight operations along the way. After a week’s stay, John F. Kennedy sailed to the western Med to participate in Display Determination 80, en route to Alexandria. The exercise staged joint combined raids in Italy and engagements with the French carrier Clemenceau.
John F. Kennedy anchored at Alexandria the morning of 14 October 1980. On 18 October, the carrier left Alexandria for Haifa, dropping anchor at that port the following day. Hospitable Israelis hosted some 240 men from the ship in their homes; John F. Kennedy hosted approximately 1,000 visitors.
John F. Kennedy left that Israeli port on 24 October 1980, in transit to a 27 October call at Athens. During the voyage, the carrier conducted open ocean mining exercises and participated in joint service operations with Hellenic forces. The warship anchored at Athens on the morning of 27 October. After a week there, the carrier departed on 2 November for operations in the central Med en route Naples, arriving four days later.
John F. Kennedy left Naples on 10 November 1980, bound for Palma, and began participating in Exercise Poop Deck that day. USAF F-15s and F-4s provided adversary services for the carrier’s airwing. With Poop Deck completed, the ship anchored at Palma on 15 November to begin a two-week port visit, which included a dependents charter flight.
John F. Kennedy sailed on 2 December 1980 and resumed flight operations en route to joint service operations in the central Med. She anchored in Naples on 13 December to plan and prepare for close air support exercises employing live ordnance at Capo Tuelada. The carrier returned to Naples on 20 December. Two days after Christmas, His Eminence Terence Cardinal Cooke, D.D., Military Vicar, was flown aboard to celebrate Mass for approximately 300 officers and enlisted men.
John F. Kennedy departed Naples on 3 January 1981 en route to the western and central Mediterranean for carquals and ASW exercises. From 5-11 January, the warship participated in coordinated operations with fellow battle group units. On 12 January, the carrier dropped anchor in Augusta Bay to host a briefing for National Week XXX, upon completion of which the fleet weighed anchor and sailed for the waters north of the Suez Canal. National Week XXX exercised battle group anti-air warfare (AAW) and airborne early warning (AEW) capabilities, emphasized surface and subsurface search coordination procedures, electronic support measures and follow-on war-at-sea strikes. Poor weather and rough seas, however, hampered the exercise, limiting air operations.
Upon completion of National Week XXX, John F. Kennedy anchored in Souda Bay for the exercise debrief on 19-20 January 1981, then visited Athens (21-27 January), whence she sailed for the central Med for flight operations in support of a combat readiness assessment exercise west of Crete (28-29 January) that tested the ship’s weapons department and air wing ordnance teams.
John F. Kennedy conducted flight operations in the central and western Med during February 1981, punctuating those operations with port visits to Naples (2-3 February) and Valencia, Spain (14-18 February). While en route to the latter port, CVW-1 aircraft joined the French Southern Coastal Defense Forces for Dasix exercises which simulated strike and air defense warfare.
John F. Kennedy participated in amphibious exercises off Carbonaras, Spain (21-22 February 1981), her fighters conducting amphibious support and combat support and combat air patrol (CAP) missions under surface combatant control while attack crews gained training and experience in low altitude, high-threat close air support. From 21-24 February, USAF aircraft engaged the carrier in dissimilar air combat training work. USAF F-4’s provided the opportunity to exercise CIC and E-2 (Hawkeye) control of anti-air warfare (AAW) operators, as well as exercising the fighters in the air-to-air role. Upon completion of the evolution, John F. Kennedy sailed for Naples, arriving there on 26 February.
On 9 March 1981, John F. Kennedy got underway for Malaga. Once she arrived on 13 March, the ship embarked approximately 130 male dependents and relatives, and five days later, on 18 March, ComCarGru 2/ CTF 60 cross-decked from John F. Kennedy to Forrestal. The Tiger Cruise then set sail from Malaga, coming to a conclusion at Norfolk on 28 March 1981.
John F. Kennedy spent April 1981 preparing for a restricted availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (30 April-3 August). Before she made the trip to the yard, she unloaded her ordnance and weapons to the carriers Nimitz and America and the underway replenishment oiler Kalamazoo (AOR-6). Completing her yard period on 2 August 1981, she departed the next day for post-repair trials. She then returned to Pier 12 for upkeep (7-23 August), during which time she hosted the visiting British carrier HMS Invincible during her port call to Norfolk (8-20 August).
Having completed her final adjustments, John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk on 24 August 1981 for three weeks of carquals, limited air wing flight operations and ship/air wing refresher operations in the Jacksonville/Guantanamo operating areas. During the qualification periods, on 29 August 1981, Captain D. Bruce Cargill relieved Captain Hernandez, after which, the carrier steamed to Guantanamo for refresher training. Concluding her refresher work on 10 September, John F. Kennedy set course for Norfolk. The ship moored to Pier 12 on 14 September.
John F. Kennedy’s next departure came on 6 October 1981 when she left for four days of carquals, after which she conducted type training from 10-19 October off the Virginia capes. She then returned to Norfolk, remaining there from 19 to 25 October, before shifting to Whiskey anchorage, and preparations for the in-port phase of the operational propulsion plant examination (26-28 October).
Tragically, during the CVW-3 fly-on operations on 29 October 1981, VAQ-138 suffered the loss of the three-man crew of one of its EA-6Bs (BuNo 159582). Lieutenant Commander Jack A. Fisher and Lieutenants James H. Mallory and Alfred J. Dupont perished in the mishap when the Prowler crashed near NAS Oceana. The ship held a memorial service for the lost crew two days later.
John F. Kennedy then sailed for Puerto Rico on 30 October 1981 to participate in ReadEx 1-82, an evolution involving more than 30 ships and 200 aircraft of the Atlantic Fleet and Royal Navy, and lasting through 4 December, designed to improve readiness in coordinated dual carrier battle group operations for John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower. During the exercise, the participants passed beneath the constant watch by their Soviet comrades, Bears operating between the Soviet Union and Cuba.
During November 1981, CVW-3 (VF-11 and VF-31, VA-37, VA-75 and VA-105, VS-22, VAW-126, VAQ-138 and HS-7), which had replaced CVW-1 as the ship’s embarked air wing, intercepted Tu-95 Bears, took part in ReadEx 1-82, parrying threats to the battle group, and planned attacks on selected exercise targets. As ReadEx 1-82 progressed, the entire battle group began to perform as a coordinated body.
John F. Kennedy then visited St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands from 8-11 November 1981, after which time she engaged in yet more training, including air wing day and night strikes against targets on Vieques; CAP against multiple airborne raids; minefield evasion, multiple air-to-air missiles exercises; air-to-air gunnery against a towed banner; multiple war-at-sea strikes; advanced anti-ship cruise missile exercises during which CVW-3 scored direct hits on the target, ex-Charles R. Ware (DD-865); electronic warfare training; anti-submarine torpedo exercises by both helo and fixed wing aircraft; refueling/replenishment exercises; and various safety and navigational exercises.
On 17 November 1981, Dwight D. Eisenhower departed Barbados and commenced two days of adversary operations against John F. Kennedy. Afterwards, both carrier battle groups joined forces. Without benefit of a coordination and workup period, units of the two carrier battle groups, British forces, and USAF assets rendezvoused in a hostile electronic warfare environment and successfully encountered a complex, sophisticated and numerically superior exercise adversary, proving the concept of long-range force defense for protracted periods. The participants had achieved a major breakthrough in maritime air superiority through several “firsts” in the Navy’s experience, including employment of in-flight refueling from a USAF McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender, employing long-range carrier based CAP, and integrating the largest joint carrier battle force/ USAF command and control (AWACS) aircraft.
Following an ORE (1-4 December 1981), John F. Kennedy anchored north of Vieques from 4-5 December to rearm from Butte (AE-27) and finish work on her propulsion system. Having completed intensive training in the Caribbean, the carrier moored alongside Pier 12, on the morning of 11 December, where she remained for the rest of 1981.
John F. Kennedy deployed on 4 January 1982, commencing the voyage with a three-day period of carquals for her air wing off the Virginia capes. That having been completed, she began her Atlantic transit with CVW-3 (VF-11 and VF-31, VA-37, VA-75 and VA-105, VS-22, VAW-126 and VAQ-138 and HS-7) embarked. She in-chopped the Mediterranean on 17 January 1982 and began a four-day port visit to Malaga.
Late on 21 January 1982, John F. Kennedy got underway, and participated in National Week XXXI in the Mediterranean. She then transited the Suez Canal on 3 February, making her first passage with numerous Egyptian and U.S. Embassy staff members embarked. John F. Kennedy then spent the rest of the month of February in the Indian Ocean and North Arabian Sea, and crossed the equator for the first time on 6 March, entering the “Realm of King Neptunus Rex.” Only ten percent of the crew had crossed the equator previously and by the end of the day, 4,500 “Pollywogs” had become “Shellbacks.”
John F. Kennedy then set course for Australia, en route to Perth. On 11 March 1982, each man, whether he was ship’s company, air wing, or staff, in a departure from the “dry” nature of U.S. Navy ships in the wake of the 1914 general order abolishing other than medicinal alcohol on board, was authorized two cold beers in a cookout on the flight deck. The entire crew took the afternoon off to relax following 45 days of arduous toil.
John F. Kennedy anchored outside Perth at the port of Fremantle on the morning of 19 March 1982, and received warm hospitality for the duration of the stay that ultimately came to an end on 25 March.
John F. Kennedy and conducted routine operations and exercises for the next five weeks, evolutions punctuated by her first port visit in Africa, anchoring at Mombasa, Kenya, on 2 May 1982. She left on 7 May and steamed toward the North Arabian Sea, where, the following day, she hosted the visiting President Mohamed Siad Barre of the Somali Democratic Republic, who arrived to full honors, including Marine honor guard and a 21-gun salute from the guided missile cruiser Josephus Daniels (CG-27).
On 19 May 1982, Commodore John Gunning, Commander, Sultan of Oman’s Navy and Captain John De Winton, Chief of Staff (Designate), Sultan of Oman’s Navy visited John F. Kennedy. The carrier had been operating closely with the Sultan of Oman’s air forces, and the visit was intended to foster closer relations with his military representatives.
John F. Kennedy transited the Strait of Bab-El-Mandeb on 1 June 1982 and headed north in the Red Sea. She arrived at Port Suez that afternoon. After making the northerly transit of the Suez Canal, the carrier expected to make a port visit to Haifa from 6-11 June, where many of the John F. Kennedy’s crew had dependents waiting for them. However, another crisis in the Middle East would put those plans on hold, in the wake of Israeli forces entering Lebanon in Operation Peace for Galilee on 6 June 1982. Israel had attacked Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fortifications throughout southern Lebanon, and John F. Kennedy, her anticipated port visit to Haifa cancelled, received orders to proceed to a position off the Lebanese coast. On 8 June, the Secretary of Defense ordered the Marine Amphibious Ready Group at Rota to the eastern Med for potential evacuation of American citizens from Beirut, Lebanon. John F. Kennedy’s crew was relieved to hear that their loved ones were all safe and returning home, as they prepared to aid in the possible evacuation of U.S. and other foreign nationals from Beirut. The ship remained on station until relieved on 17 June by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
John F. Kennedy proceeded to Toulon, arriving on 21 June 1982. Three days later, she sailed to take part in Daily Double, an anti-surface warfare (ASW) and air defense exercise with the French Air Force and Navy. When Daily Double concluded on 27 June, the carrier transited to Malaga, arriving the following day and remaining there until 3 July. John F. Kennedy concluded the deployment with a Tiger Cruise, ultimately reaching Norfolk on 14 July.
From 17-27 August 1982, John F. Kennedy conducted carquals off the Virginia capes, after which time she lay pierside before undertaking another stint of carquals off the capes from 21-24 September. On 30 September, she hosted change-of-command ceremonies where Admiral Wesley L. McDonald relieved Admiral Harry D. Train II, USN, as Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic; Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command and U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
John F. Kennedy shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 15 October 1982 where she underwent an overhaul and rehabilitation period for all ship’s spaces and equipment that lasted until 7 February 1983, upon completion of which she got underway for two days of post-availability sea trials off the Virginia capes. The carrier returned to Naval Station, Norfolk, on 10 February and remained there until 24 February in preparation for. From 24-27 February, the warship conducted carquals off the capes, and on 28 February sailed for Guantanamo for refresher training, which then ran from 1-9 March. Released to proceed to Bridgetown, Barbados, John F. Kennedy remained there from 12 to 15 March.
John F. Kennedy then engaged in training in the Caribbean/Puerto Rico operating areas until 5 April 1983, returning to Norfolk on 8 April. Soon thereafter, on 14 April, Captain Gary F. Wheatley relieved Commodore Cargill as commanding officer.
John F. Kennedy deployed on 26 April 1983 for Solid Shield 83, conducted through 5 May, an exercise designed to test multi-phase and joint operations off the coasts of North and South Carolina and Georgia. The ship was tasked with utilizing the Joint Interoperability Tactical Command and Control Systems message format designed to standardize messages and message procedures among all branches of the armed services.
After Solid Shield 83, the remainder of May 1983 saw more carquals, a planned maintenance system inspection and exercise United Effort, which took place during John F. Kennedy’s voyage across the then steamed east towards the Central and Eastern Atlantic Ocean to participate in Ocean Safari, a NATO exercise held from 3-17 June 1983 that involved some 90 ships from ten nations. Ocean Safari simulated air strikes into France, West Germany, and England, and the involved elements carried out ASW, anti-carrier warfare and convoy escort exercises between the Azores and the United Kingdom, concluding with a port visit to Portsmouth, England, from 18-22 June.
John F. Kennedy began her trip home on 23 June 1983 and arrived at Norfolk on 1 July. After a post-deployment respite, the ship conducted carquals off the Virginia capes commencing on 20 July. Subsequently, the carrier conducted three days of an Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (OPPE) off the capes, after which time the ship remained in port from 30 July through 9 August.
John F. Kennedy, with Washington Post military correspondent George C. Wilson (whose book, Supercarrier, would chronicle the deployment that unfolded) embarked, sailed from Norfolk on 27 September 1983, and after conducting carquals off the Virginia capes (27 September-2 October) set course, with CVW-3 (VF-11 and VF-31, VA-75 and VA-85, VS-22, VAW-126 and VAQ-137, and HS-7) for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a port visit from 13-16 October. During the voyage, over 2,000 “pollywogs” were initiated into the order of King Neptune’s realm when the ship crossed the Equator on 8 October. While in Rio, John F. Kennedy’s crew provided material and manpower aid for the John F. Kennedy Brazilian Elementary School. They bid farewell to Rio on 17 October as the ship steamed east for another deployment to the Med.
On 23 October 1983, while John F. Kennedy was en route to the Med, a suicide bomber struck the U.S. Marine Corps Multi-National Forces (MNF) Barracks at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 Marines. That same day, another suicide car bomb killed 58 French paratroopers. Five days after those terrorist acts, John F. Kennedy entered the Med, one day ahead of schedule. The prevailing international situation resulted in her scheduled 2-7 November port visit to Marseille, France, being cancelled.
John F. Kennedy’s VF-31, however, suffered two tragic losses inside of three days. On 8 November 1983, Lieutenant (jg) Cole P. O’Neil and Commander John C. Scull (RIO), died when their F-14A (Modex AC 205) inexplicably flew into the sea while on a CAP station near the coast of Lebanon. Another VF-31 F-14A (AC 212) on 11 November; Lieutenant David P. Jancarski, the pilot, suffered serious injuries in the egress, Lieutenant Commander Oliver L. Wright (RIO), emerged from the ordeal unhurt. HS-7 helos rescued both men, the Sea King flown by Lieutenant Commander Thomas R. Withers, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3d Class John Curran and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Airman Daniel Rockel as rescue crewmen, picking up Jancarski and the Sea King flown by Lieutenant Richard A. Strickland, with rescue aircrew Mark Phillips and Mike Mellema, picking up Wright.
On 24 November 1983, the carrier’s C-1A Trader, Caroline II, was lost at sea, during a ferry flight, near Palma. Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2d Class Fernando Pena perished in the crash.
That same day, 24 November 1983, John F. Kennedy’s F-14As began flying tactical air reconnaissance pod system (TARPS) missions over Lebanon, their crews gathering valuable intelligence to target Syrian positions for the gunfire support ships offshore. John F. Kennedy, together with Independence, continued to provide support for the MNF throughout the rest of 1983, as the result of which the planned port visit to Alexandria and a Suez Canal transit were cancelled. Instead, John F. Kennedy returned to Haifa on the morning of 28 November, remaining there until 1 December.
John F. Kennedy engaged in combat for the first time soon thereafter, when she returned to the waters off Lebanon. On 3 December 1983, two VF-31 F-14As, on a TARPS mission, the Tomcat flown by Lieutenant Commander John C. Burch with Lieutenant John W. Miller as RIO, the escort flown by Lieutenant Gregory G. Streit with Lieutenant (j.g.) James E. McAloon as RIO, encountered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire.
The following morning, 4 December 1983, John F. Kennedy and Independence aircraft (CVW-6) pounded Syrian anti-aircraft and artillery positions near Hammana, Lebanon, in a coordinated retaliatory strike. VA-85 flew seven combat sorties and VA-75 three, in addition to launching two of its KA-6Ds to serve as aerial refuelers for the strike aircraft; VAQ-137’s EA-6Bs provided electronic countermeasures/electronic support measures, while VF-11 flew CAP missions with its F-14s and VF-31 flew rescue CAP and CAP over the force offshore with their Tomcats. SAMs, however, downed one Independence A-7E and one John F. Kennedy VA-85 A-6E.
Syrian troops captured Lieutenant Robert O. Goodman, the Intruder’s bombardier/navigator (ultimately released on 3 January 1984, he returned to the United States). Lieutenant Mark A. Lange, Lieutenant Goodman’s pilot, however, died from injuries received during the ejection. On 7 December, the Syrians returned Lange’s body to the American Embassy in Beirut. A Christian Lebanese fisherman and his son picked up Commander Edward K. Andrews, the A-7E pilot, CVW-6’s commander, and he soon reached American hands.
Secretary of Defense Casper W. Weinberger, issued authorization on 10 December 1983 for John F. Kennedy’s indefinite stay in the eastern Med. Not transiting to the Indian Ocean as previously scheduled, John F. Kennedy thus began 1984 continuing her support of the MNF. On 20 January, the carrier left the eastern Med; she visited Naples (23-30 January) before returning to her station off Lebanon. In response to a resumption of hostile artillery fire upon U.S. Marine positions, CVW-3’s Intruders carried out air strikes against the offending guns, taking no losses in return.
John F. Kennedy, given a brief respite from MNF support duty to conduct NATO exercises near Cyprus in conjunction with the British and French navies, changed station to north of Alexandria on 22 March 1984. On 9 April, she received orders to proceed to Naples, where she would stay from 12-18 April. While there, Saratoga relieved John F. Kennedy, releasing her to sail for home.
John F. Kennedy arrived in Norfolk on 2 May 1984, and before month’s end, was underway on 30 May for Boston to participate in the “Parade of Sail” event. The trip home became another Tiger Cruise, culminating at Norfolk on 8 June. The carrier spent the balance of June, July and August undergoing trials and qualifications.
On 2 September 1984, Vice President George H.W. Bush visited John F. Kennedy. Three days later, Captain William R. McGowen relieved Commodore Wheatley as commanding officer, and soon thereafter, the ship steamed to the Virginia capes for carquals and testing of the new McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. Four days later, John F. Kennedy entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
The carrier remained in shipyard hands until 20 September 1985, undergoing a $165 million overhaul. During that time, she received the installation of two close-in weapons system (CIWS) mounts, a SPN-46 automatic carrier landing system, the Mk. 23 target acquisition system, the single audio system (SAS), a flag tactical command and control (FTCC) system, the URN-25 tactical aid to air navigation, the Raytheon collision avoidance system (RAYCAS), a SPS-67 and SPS-64 surface search radar, SPA-25E and SPA-74 air search radar repeaters, the surface ship torpedo defense (SSTD) and F/A-18 maintenance phase I capability.
John F. Kennedy returned to the fleet on 20 September 1985, and on 8 October, began carquals off the Virginia capes to begin trials of her newly installed or overhauled systems. After calling at Port Lauderdale, Florida (11-15 October), during which she hosted some 25,000 visitors, she conducted target of opportunity exercises with the attack submarine Boston (SSN-703) on 15 October. During those evolutions, the carrier controlled the guided missile destroyer Richard E. Byrd (DDG-23) and VS-24 planes as they tracked Boston for four hours and “attacked” her twice.
Returning to Norfolk on 18 October 1985, John F. Kennedy got underway for shakedown training eleven days later; she tested her newly installed CIWS and NATO Sea Sparrow mounts, while continuing tests of weapons elevators and the surface ship torpedo system. She finished the month (29-31 October) with target of opportunity exercises with Minneapolis-Saint Paul (SSN-708), John F. Kennedy aircraft maintaining contact on their adversary for 16 hours and simulating 14 attacks.
As the month of November 1985 began, the ship assisted five people on board a fishing vessel in distress on 1 November. A week later, she (8 November), the carrier conducted target of opportunity exercises with James K. Polk (SSBN-645), John F. Kennedy aircraft maintaining contact on their adversary for four hours and simulating four attacks. After visiting Nassau (9-13 November), she rounded out the month with more exercises, an ASW evolution (17-20 November) with Bonefish (SSN-582), during which her aircraft assisted destroyers John Rodgers (DD-983) and O’Bannon (DD-987) and frigate W. S. Sims (FF-1059) in generating 51 hours of “contact time” and making 57 “attacks,” and a target of opportunity evolution with Honolulu (SSN-718) that saw aircraft from the carrier maintaining contact for 21 hours and simulating 14 attacks. On 25 November, the day the ship returned to Norfolk, a John F. Kennedy Hawkeye detected a surprise raid by Marine All Weather Attack Squadron (VMA(AW)) 533, which deck-launched interceptors from the ship handled.
Underway again on 9 December 1985 for fleet carquals, John F. Kennedy completed tracking exercises for her CIWS and Sea Sparrow systems, cross-decked people from Patrol Squadron (VP) 8, VP-24, and VP-26, and qualified pilots from VA-42 and VA-174, VMA(AW)-533, and CVW-3. Beginning two days later, the ship conducted ASW exercises with L. Mendel Rivers (SSN-686) and Archerfish (SSN-678) (11-12 December); P-3 Orions from VP-5, VP-24, and VP-56, assisted by the frigate Bowen (FF-1079) generated 51 hours of contact and 30 simulated attacks. A brief visit (13 December) to Mayport preceded the ship’s completing the surface ship torpedo defense system (16 December), after which (19 December), John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk.
Underway on 15 January 1986 for refresher training in the western Atlantic, John F. Kennedy punctuated those evolutions with a call at Mayport (22 January) before resuming that work en route to return to Norfolk. Underway again on 3 March for independent type training in the western Atlantic, the carrier visited Port Everglades (8-12 March) before returning to Norfolk on 17 March, where the actuator on number one catapult was replaced by one installed in the Nimitz (CVN-68)-class ships the following day
During April 1986, John F. Kennedy conducted carquals (14-16 April) before returning to port on the 17th. She conducted a dependent’s day cruise on the 19th, before resuming in-port status for the remainder of the month, during which time a global positioning system (GPS) satellite navigation unit was installed on board.
On 1 May 1986, Captain John A. Moriarty relieved Captain McGowen, and five days later the ship sailed for the Puerto Rican operating area for advanced training. The second day out, she conducted a major (13-hour) underway replenishment from replenishment oiler Savannah (AOR-4) moving 390 lifts of stores from the auxiliary to the carrier. After punctuating that training with a visit to St. Thomas, John F. Kennedy ultimately returned to Norfolk on 6 June, where remained for most of the rest of the month.
John F. Kennedy got underway on 26 June 1986, and after completing the certification period for the AN/SPN-46 automated carrier landing system (ACLS), continued on for New York City, which she reached on 1 July. On 3 and 4 July, over 8,000 people visited the ship as she took part in the International Naval Review in honor of the 100th anniversary of France’s giving the United States the Statue of Liberty to the United States. President Ronald Reagan visited the ship on Independence Day.
Following a Tiger Cruise from 6 to 9 July 1986, John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk for more local operations and preparation for her next deployment. Hurricane Gloria struck the eastern seaboard of the United States with high winds, thunderstorms and flooding on 17 August, compelling John F. Kennedy to prepare for a possible emergency recall, but the system passed swiftly, and the next day, the carrier, wearing Rear Admiral Grant A. Sharp’s flag (ComCruDesGru 2), sailed for the Mediterranean as scheduled, being the first carrier to deploy with the Mk. 65 Quickstrike mine in her magazines. The seas proved rough during the entire cruise as a result of Gloria, but the carrier, with CVW-3 (VF-14 and VF-32, VA-66 and VA-72, VAQ-140, VAW-126, VMA(AW)-533, VS-22, VQ-2 and HS-7) embarked, accompanied by her battle group, made Rota on schedule on 28 August. After her turnover with America, John F. Kennedy sailed for Benidorm, Spain, for a six-day port visit.
Proceeding thence for four days at sea, John F. Kennedy then anchored at Toulon, for a five-day port visit and planning meetings for Display Determination 86, a large-scale multi-national three-part exercise that included Forrestal and her battle group, and the French carrier Foch (R.99). The evolution ran from 19 September to 13 October 1986, extending from the eastern Mediterranean into the Aegean Sea; upon its completion, John F. Kennedy exercised with Forrestal and then anchored in Haifa on 16 October.
After leaving that Israeli port on 19 October 1986, John F. Kennedy engaged in a “sinkex” in which her aircraft and guided missile cruiser Belknap, utilizing Harpoon, among other weapons, sank the former Italian frigate ex-Cigno. The ship then headed into the Adriatic; sadly, in a four-day span during the Haifa-Trieste transit, CVW-3 lost men and planes; an S-3 (side number 702) with its crew on 21 October, and, during the search for the lost Viking three days later, Captains Russell Schindelheim and Timothy Morrison, USMC, of VMA(AW)-533 died when their A-6E Intruder (side number 552) (BuNo 159897) crashed on 24 October, a Honduran-flag (Marisal Lines) bulk carrier, El Sol, witnessing the mishap and assisting in salvage efforts.
After successive port visits to Trieste (27 October-3 November 1986) and Naples (she arrived on 5 November), John F. Kennedy steamed into the western Mediterranean, for a Poopdeck exercise (11-12 November 1986) before she exercised with Moroccan and USAF units in African Eagle, evolutions that tested the battle group in AAW, overland strikes, CV attack and low-level flying. Concluding African Eagle on 22 November, the ship reached Cannes on that date, and celebrated Thanksgiving there before she sailed to resume operations on 3 December. She then participated in a Dasix exercise with French air forces, involving low level attacks defended by French Mirages. After that period of work, John F. Kennedy began a ten-day port visit in Naples on 10 December; while there, she underwent the largest work package ever conducted on a forward-deployed carrier.
On 14 December 1986, his eminence Corado Cardinal Ursi, the Cardinal Archbishop of Naples, visited John F. Kennedy and celebrated Mass and held a confirmation ceremony in the hangar bay. Five days before Christmas, the carrier sailed for Palma, arriving three days later; there she celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The ship brought her visit to Palma to a close on 2 January 1987.
During flight operations in the central Med the next day, 3 January 1987, a VF-14 F-14A (Modex AC-106, BuNo 159431), attempting a night landing, “bolted” and drifted right, striking an A-6 at about 1854. The collision sheared off a portion of the F-14’s right wing and severed an external fuel tank from the wing of the A-6. The crew of the F-14A ejected, and although 14 to 20-foot seas and 35-knot winds hampered the efforts, were recovered, with an HS-7 helo, Dusty Dog 610, recovering the Tomcat’s pilot and destroyer John Rodgers rescuing Lieutenant Michael J. Valen, the NFO, as well as Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 1st Class Timothy Broderick, the rescue swimmer from HS-7. John F. Kennedy’s flight deck crews extinguished the flames that issued from the Intruder’s ruptured fuel tank within minutes of the accident, preventing damage to the flight deck or surrounding planes, and the ship stood down from the fire emergency at 1926.
On 6 January 1987, John F. Kennedy commenced her Cannes port visit. After a pleasant ten-day visit, the ship got underway for National Week, conducted in the western Med. John F. Kennedy’s battle group conducted exercises with Nimitz’s in Augusta Bay. Tragically, a VMA(AW)-533 A-6 (BuNo 159905), was lost off the southern coast of France on 17 January 1987, taking the lives of Captain M. Gonzalas, USMC, and 1st Lieutenant R. Cox, USMC.
At the conclusion of the exercise, the ship anchored at Malaga on 29 January 1987 for a four-day port visit, scheduled to be her last before turnover in Rota. Growing unrest in the Middle East, however, shortened liberty, as the carrier received an indefinite extension with orders to commence a high-speed transit to the eastern Med where John F. Kennedy would join Nimitz off the coast of Lebanon.
John F. Kennedy arrived at her destination on 2 February 1987 and commenced dual carrier battle group operations with Nimitz. After four days of operations, John F. Kennedy anchored at Haifa for a six-day port visit. The ship’s indefinite extension, however, proved short-lived. Returning to dual carrier battle group operations on 12 February, she engaged in them for five days until 17 February, when she received orders ending her indefinite extension. On the morning of 21 February, the ship anchored off Rota and later that night, finished a one-day out-chop, weighed anchor and headed for Norfolk, arriving on 2 March.
Following a month-long leave and upkeep period, John F. Kennedy focused her attention on the upcoming carquals and a restricted availability that would follow. The latter commenced on 1 May 1987 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and the carrier remained there until completion of the yard period on 17 August. Two days later, she carried out sea trials off the Virginia capes. After catapult certification trials on 28 August, John F. Kennedy set course for Boston, mooring there on 3 September, where she hosted over 130,000 visitors in two and a half days of visiting, and Rear Admiral John R. McNamara. (ChC) Chief of Chaplains, conducted a John F. Kennedy Memorial Mass. The carrier sailed on 9 September for Portland, Maine, arriving there the next day. On 15 September, she weighed anchor and proceeded home to Norfolk on another two-day Tiger Cruise.
John F. Kennedy then commenced an upkeep period that lasted until November 1987, during which time American Broadcasting Company (ABC) film crews came on board to film the motion picture “Supercarrier.” John F. Kennedy departed for the Virginia capes and conducted an ISE on 16 November, after which she conducted refresher training and a week of underway filming, then returned to Norfolk on 24 November, just in time for Thanksgiving.
On 4 December 1987, John F. Kennedy returned to sea for refresher training. She returned to Norfolk on 17 December, remaining there to close out 1987. While there, she underwent a technical availability that concluded on 11 January 1988. After a brief carrier qualification period (21-25 January), she held a change of command ceremony on 29 January, when Captain Hugh D. Wisely relieved Captain Moriarty.
John F. Kennedy spent February through March of 1988 preparing for the upcoming Med deployment. During carquals off the Virginia capes on 25 March, Gypsy 203, a VF-32 F-14 (BuNo 159441) crashed at 2135 after failing to gain proper airspeed off the catapult. Dusty Dog 614, flown by Lieutenant Andrew T. Macyko and Lieutenant (j.g.) Rodger T. “Rusty” Shepko, with Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operators 2d Class Roger Anderson as first crewman and Fred Setzer as rescue swimmer, located Lieutenant Nicholas A. Filippone, and petty officer Setzer went into the water to assist him; the HS-7 helo hoisted the NFO on board at 2154. The Sea King then illuminated Lieutenant Michael J. Nichols’s position as it headed for the ship (landing at 2156), enabling the carrier’s starboard motor whaleboat to pick up the pilot at 2158 and bring him on board at 2207. Both Nichols and Filippone received treatment for hypothermia, and were listed as “conscious, alert, and stable” by the end of the first watch.
From 19 April through 19 May 1988, John F. Kennedy conducted advance phase training off the Virginia capes. During those evolutions, on 24 April, the submarine Bonefish, while “pursuing” the carrier and her battle group in exercises about 160 miles east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, suffered a major fire and a series of explosions that ripped through the boat, killing three Sailors and forcing the men to abandon ship. The guided missile frigate Carr (FFG-52), sensing danger in a routine transmission from the sub, sped to the scene. John F. Kennedy learned of the catastrophe via radio when 42 nautical miles away at 1718, and immediately began assembling medical teams on the flight deck to be transported to Carr. John F. Kennedy launched the first SH-3H at 1740, two at 1744, and a fourth at 1827, and began recovering the first helicopter transporting Bonefish Sailors at 1844; she launched the fifth helo ten minutes later. She continued flight operations with her helicopters into the second dog watch, and began bringing on board the first casualties at 2205. She began heading for Mayport early in the mid watch on 25 April, flying the survivors ashore to NAS Mayport by helo, retaining only Lieutenant (j.g.) William B. Swift, one of the submarine’s injured officers, for further treatment.
Carr’s providential preparation for rescue work had enabled her to be ready to act as on-scene commander as soon as she arrived. Over the ensuing hours, as smoke issued from the hatches of the stricken Bonefish, Carr coordinated the work of the quintet of Sea Kings from HS-7 that “blanketed the…area all working as a cohesive team” to remove people from the burning submarine, in addition to a fixed-wing jet and her own motor whaleboat in the rescue of the 89 surviving crewmen, HS-7 helicopters employing rescue swimmers to attach rescue slings and calm anxious survivors. Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 44, Detachment 4, in Carr, utilizing their SH-60B Seahawk, evacuated ten men and pulled two from the water.
John F. Kennedy assisted with the rescue and embarked many Bonefish crewmen; 23 Sailors suffering from respiratory injuries received care in the ship’s inpatient ward. The carrier returned to the scene the following day to conduct further SAR operations as Bonefish was ultimately taken in tow and returned to her homeport of Charleston, South Carolina. “This complex evolution,” an HS-7 chronicler declared later, “was a textbook rescue because of the professionalism and ‘can do’ attitude exhibited by the team” of John F. Kennedy, Carr, and HS-7.
Following the Bonefish incident, John F. Kennedy enjoyed a three-day port visit to Port Everglades, Florida. Following battle group training off the Virginia capes and the Bahamas starting 8 June 1988, the carrier returned home on 25 June.
On 2 August 1988, John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk, bound for the Med; she recovered CVW-3 (VF-14 and VF-32, VA-75, VS-22, VMA-533, VAQ-130, VAW-126, and HS-7) between 2 and 4 August. She transited the Strait of Gibraltar as she began the mid watch on 14 August, and ultimately, on 16 August, relieved Dwight D. Eisenhower just west of Corsica.
After transiting the Strait of Messina, and then participating in National Week ’88, the carrier visited Naples (21-25 August 1988), where John F. Kennedy’s crewmen pooled their resources to repair a home for unwed mothers. On 25 August, the carrier returned to sea for four days, and then paused with a port visit to Alexandria.
From 4-8 September 1988, John F. Kennedy conducted Sea Wind off the coast of Alexandria, as efforts to further cooperation between the Egyptian and U.S. governments saw 6th Fleet elements exercising with the Egyptian Navy and Air Force. During the evolution, both forces conducted simulated low-level strikes into Wadi Natrun, ASW training with Egyptian Romeo-class submarines, dissimilar air combat training with Egyptian F-16, Mirages, and Fishbeds, electronic warfare training with Egyptian EW/GCI sites, and cross-training Egyptian/U.S. E-2C aircrew.
Following Sea Wind, the carrier visited Toulon, beginning on 13 September 1988, then sailed to participate in Display Determination ’88 (22 September-10 October), maneuvers that involved war-at-sea exercises, overland low-level simulated strikes, and air-to-air engagements. Following Display Determination ’88, John F. Kennedy visited Antalya, Turkey (10-17 October) and Tunis, Tunisia (21-24 October). From 24-26 October, she participated in exercises off the Tunisian coast, operating with naval and air elements of the Tunisian armed forces conducting war-at-sea strikes, simulated overland strikes at the Ras Engelah range, and defensive air combat training with Tunisian Northrop F-5’s. That training having been accomplished, John F. Kennedy visited Palma (28 October-4 November).
John F. Kennedy re-visited Naples (14-18 November 1988) before she returned to a slate of active operations that included exercises, on 22 November, with the French carrier Foch. The joint French and U.S. Navy exercise consisted of long-range targeting scenarios, followed by a war-at-sea strike. The two carriers’ air wings also conducted dissimilar air combat training concurrent with the war-at-sea strike. The next day, John F. Kennedy anchored at Marseille, celebrating Thanksgiving there; families back home, meanwhile, viewed the premier of a cable video production “Young Peacekeepers,” a documentary that focused on the young men working on John F. Kennedy’s flight deck.
John F. Kennedy departed Marseille on 27 November 1988, and from 1 to 10 December, participated in African Eagle ’88, a combined USN, USAF and Moroccan exercise off the north Moroccan coast that featured simulated low-level strikes against several inland targets, war-at-sea strikes against Moroccan patrol boats, and dissimilar air combat training against USAF F-16 and Moroccan Mirages. Following African Eagle ’88, John F. Kennedy anchored at Palma on 15 December. On 20 December, she headed for Cannes, arriving on the morning of 23 December; she celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve there.
On New Year’s Day 1989, John F. Kennedy sailed from Cannes, bound for Haifa. Three days later, on 4 January 1989, during the second of three cycles of scheduled operations that day, her airborne Hawkeyes and the ship’s F-14 CAP detected, at about 78 nautical miles, two Libyan MiG-23B Floggers from Al Bumbah. Other Libyan aircraft had been observed and monitored earlier, but had not behaved aggressively, inevitably returning to their base. These two MiGs continued to close at high speed, however, accelerating first from 430 to 450, and then from 450 to 500, knots. The Tomcats, from VF-32, embarked on a series of pre-planned, non-provocative maneuvers, changing course and altitude in order to establish offset. The Floggers, however, countered the F-14s’ maneuvers with their own, re-establishing “head-on forward quarter weapons release” situations. As the Libyan planes closed at high speed within range to release their own weapons, the Tomcats, one flown by Lieutenant Herman C. Cook, Jr., with Lieutenant Commander Steven P. Collins as NFO, the other by Lieutenant Commander Joseph B. Connelly and Commander Leo F. Enwright, Jr., engaged the MiGs, firing in self-defense, and splashed the two Floggers with AIM-7 and AIM-9 missiles in the central Med north of Tobruk in international waters. As a CVW-3 chronicler laconically summed it up: “USN – 2, Libya – 0.”
John F. Kennedy reached Haifa on 6 January 1989 to what her chronicler called a “heroes welcome,” news coverage of the MiG kills having proved extremely heavy, necessitating additional 6th Fleet public affairs people to handle the sharply increased media interest. The carrier sailed on 9 January to conduct Exercise Juniper Hawk with Israeli forces for two days, then headed back to the central Med.
John F. Kennedy transited the Strait of Messina o 14 January 1989 to facilitate a turnover with Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-74) in the Tyrrhenian Sea, as the latter began her maiden Med deployment. Following that evolution, John F. Kennedy outchopped from the Middle Sea on 22 January, and reached Norfolk on 1 February, where Secretary of the Navy William L. Ball III, flew out to the carrier to congratulate the crew and to pass along a note of thanks for a “job well done” from the newly elected President (and former naval aviator) George H.W. Bush.
During the month of February 1989, John F. Kennedy enjoyed a 30-day post-deployment stand-down period with their families. The beginning of March proved similarly uneventful as harsh weather and over 20 inches of snow prevented the ship from being moved to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a three-month industrial period. On 11 March, the weather finally broke and the carrier transited to the shipyard in balmy, spring-like conditions; subsequently, on 27 May 1989, Captain Herbert A. Browne, Jr. relieved Captain Wisely as commanding officer in a ceremony held in Trophy Park, on the grounds of the shipyard, guest access being severely restricted due to the security regulations in the industrial area. John F. Kennedy completed her yard work early and returned to Norfolk Naval Station on 14 June.
John F. Kennedy spent the remainder of June 1989 testing shipboard systems in port and at sea. Following a festive Fourth of July celebration in her homeport, she then sailed on 7 July 1989 to serve as a ready deck for Training Command carquals in the Gulf of Mexico. On 11 July, Rear Admiral Jeremy D. Taylor, Chief of Naval Training, flew out to John F. Kennedy to observe training carquals. Having completed her training, the carrier returned to Norfolk on 22 July after successfully completing over 1,200 traps.
On 23 July 1989, John F. Kennedy hosted Vice Admiral Jerome L. Johnson, Commander, 2nd Fleet, as he, in turn, hosted Vice Admiral Igor Vladimirovich Kasatonov, First Deputy Commander in Chief, Northern Fleet, and an entourage that included the commanding officers of Soviet warships Marshal Ustinov, Otlichny, and Gasanov. They dined in John F. Kennedy’s flag mess, and then enjoyed a sunset parade in the hangar bay.
John F. Kennedy left Norfolk in her wake on 10 August 1989 to return to the Gulf of Mexico for more training and carquals, upon completion of which, on 21 August, she moored along the Inland Waterway at Port Everglades. The next day, during general visiting, several visitors received minor injuries when they were startled by the lifting of a pressure relief valve on the ship’s number two elevator hydraulic system. Although several visitors fell to the non-skid surface of the elevator in the panic, only two people required transportation to local hospitals for treatment. John F. Kennedy completed her otherwise uneventful visit on 24 July.
More training and carquals followed, after which John F. Kennedy did not return to Norfolk until 1 September 1989. At month’s end, on 30 September, she hosted Coral Sea (CV-43), on the homecoming that accompanied her last deployment (Coral Sea would be decommissioned on 26 April 1990 and would be sold for scrap three years later).
John F. Kennedy stood out on 3 October 1989 to conduct exercises, among which were VS-22 ASW operations against the attack submarine Key West (SSN-722) on 4 and 5 October. On 6 and 7 October, however, while en route from Norfolk to Portland, CVW-3 lost two aircraft in separate mishaps. In the first, during the first watch on 6 October, during night flight operations, a VF-32 Tomcat (Modex AC 200) impacted the port jet blast deflector. Lieutenants Russell C. Walker, the pilot, and Robert S. Schrader, the NFO, both ejected safely from the F-14 and were recovered unhurt by an HS-7 helo. The second mishap ended less happily: on 7 October, an S-3B Viking (Modex AC 710) (BuNo 159759) from VS-22 crashed soon after launching from number one catapult late in the afternoon watch, with all four crewmen ejecting. Rescuers picked up Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 2d Class Tracy S. Mann in stable condition, but Lieutenant Douglas G. Gray and Lieutenant (j.g.) David S. Jennings, USNR, perished; their bodies were recovered. Searchers never found Lieutenant John T. Hartman, USNR.
John F. Kennedy then visited Portland (13-16 October 1989) after which she carried out a Tiger Cruise that concluded at Norfolk on 18 October, from which she operated locally for the remainder of the year, interspersing operational periods with in-port upkeep. On 11 December, the carrier lay moored at Naval Station Norfolk where she made preparations for a possible role in President Bush’s recently declared “War against Drugs.” Throughout the holiday season, John F. Kennedy loaded supplies and prepared for deployment to the Caribbean, expecting to engage in counter-narcotic operations off Colombia immediately following the turn of the New Year.
John F. Kennedy began operations for the new year on 4 January 1990, but she had not been underway for more than a week when her deployment plans changed, Caribbean anti-drug detection and monitoring operations being postponed indefinitely because of what HS-7’s historian termed “international and regional sensitivities.” She conducted advanced phase exercises under CarGru 4. On 16 January, the carrier moored at Mayport, and there hosted the change of command ceremony in which Rear Admiral Richard C. Macke relieved Rear Admiral William A. Dougherty, Jr., as ComCarGru 4 and Commander, Carrier Striking Force.
John F. Kennedy left Mayport on 23 January 1990 for more advance phase training and on 31 January joined FleetEx (Fleet Exercise) 1-90. She operated in those evolutions that spanned the waters from the middle of the Caribbean to those north of Puerto Rico, and then joined forces with Dwight D. Eisenhower to conduct ‘round-the-clock flight operations against a simulated “fjord.”
The exercise concluded on 5 February 1990 and John F. Kennedy headed back to Norfolk. Off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, however, she encountered heavy seas that removed the dome of CIWS Mt. 22 and battered some of the bow catwalks enough to require their replacement upon arrival at her homeport.
Reaching Norfolk on 9 February 1990, John F. Kennedy then underwent repairs and tests into the spring. During that time, she received the installation of the TFCC Information Management System (TIMS) that brought a greater command and control capability to the ship. In events of a ceremonial nature, the ship hosted Enterprise (CVN-65) as the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier shifted her homeport to Norfolk on 16 March.
On 27 April 1990, John F. Kennedy headed to sea for exercises off the Virginia capes and Jacksonville. On 6 May, after arriving in Puerto Rican operating areas, John F. Kennedy began a war-at-sea exercise with the French carrier Foch. The exercise concluded on 8 May and the warship steamed for Norfolk, arriving 11 May. Six days later, on 17 May 1990, the ship hosted the change of command ceremony at which Admiral Leon A. Edney relieved Admiral Frank B. Kelso as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic. John F. Kennedy remained moored for the remainder of May.
John F. Kennedy headed for the Virginia capes on 1 June 1990 for more exercises, then proceeded to the Puerto Rico operating area, where she acted as Orange (adversary) forces for the Saratoga battle group. At the conclusion of the exercise on 18 June, she set a course for New York City, arriving there on 21 June. Nearly 50,000 visitors toured the ship during Fleet Week ’90, after which time she put to sea on the 26th to conduct a week of operations off the North Atlantic coast, during which time she embarked Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) producer Alan Goldberg and Mitch Weitzner and a crew who filmed a “48 Hours” feature, that would air on 26 July 1990. The piece documented the ship’s operations, told the story of life on board a “super carrier,” and reviewed pro and con arguments for large-deck carriers. The CBS crew left on 29 June.
John F. Kennedy reached Boston on 2 July 1990. While Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Mayor Raymond Flynn welcomed her, a small group of Greenpeace protesters in Zodiac boats proved less hospitable, attempting to “escort” her into port. Navy supporters, however, interposed their craft between the environmentalists and the carrier, and she moored at the Subaru Piers about one mile from the center of the city. Over 130,000 visitors from the region visited the carrier as Boston hosted the Coast Guard’s Bicentennial and the historic frigate Constitution’s turn-around ceremony of the Fourth of July. On 9 July, John F. Kennedy embarked about 600 Tigers for the return trip to Norfolk, arriving two days later.
Events in the Persian Gulf, however, dashed John F. Kennedy’s hopes for uneventful, routine, operations that were to be capped by an overhaul scheduled to begin in January of the following year, when, on 2 August 1990, 0200 local time, 100,000 Iraqi troops massed on the border of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s leader, seething over Kuwait’s insistence on compensation for Iraq’s unpaid war debt from the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), it’s overproduction of oil, and claiming evidence that the Kuwaitis were slant drilling into the Rumaila oil field, ordered them to invade. Iraq deposed Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah and established a puppet government.
That same day, President Bush joined world leaders in condemning the invasion. A massive diplomatic effort to force Iraq to withdraw her troops ensued, as U.N. Security Council Resolution 660 called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces. The next day, the United States and Soviet Union jointly denounced Iraq’s invasion of her neighbor. On 6 August, Iraq cut off its oil shipments through one of Turkey’s pipelines, shifting the focus of the crisis to Saudi Arabia, the major remaining outlet for Iraq’s petroleum production. That same day, U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney met with Saudi King Fahd to discuss the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. Also on 6 August, the Pentagon gave President Bush a proposal for a multinational naval force, which included Soviet ships, to enforce the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq made earlier that day if diplomatic efforts failed. Dwight D. Eisenhower proceeded from the eastern Mediterranean through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea; Independence began maneuvers in the North Arabian Sea. The following day, 7 August, President Bush ordered U.S. military aircraft and troops to Saudi Arabia after King Fahd approved the deployment of a multinational force to defend his country against a possible Iraqi invasion from the Saudi border with Kuwait. Saratoga and the battleship Wisconsin (BB-64) sailed that day for a previously scheduled deployment to the eastern Med. Operation Desert Shield had begun.
On 10 August 1990, John F. Kennedy received “short-fused” orders to “load up and get underway.” She commenced her “loadout” for her Desert Shield deployment and began the loadout of CVW-3 the next day; on 13 August, she embarked Rear Admiral Riley D. Mixson, ComCarGru 2. Two days later, she recovered the aircraft of CVW-3 (VF-14 and VF-32, VA-46, VA-72, and VA-75, VS-22, VAQ-130, VAW-126 and HS-7) and got underway, standing out for local operations off the Virginia capes. After conducting war-at-sea defensive evolutions with the 2nd Fleet, being joined by her battle group (guided missile cruisers Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), San Jacinto (CG-56), and Mississippi (CGN-40), destroyer Moosbrugger (DD-980), frigate Thomas C. Hart (FF-1092), guided missile frigate Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58), fast combat support ship Seattle, and combat stores ship Sylvania (AFS-2)) the ship hosted a post-exercise conference on 22 August before beginning the voyage to the Med.
John F. Kennedy, accompanied by Mississippi, sprinted ahead of the rest of the battle group and passed into the Mediterranean on 30 August 1990 where Commander, 6th Fleet, briefers met the ship to provide the battle group deployment schedule, although, as the carrier’s chronicler later noted wryly, the schedule changed before the briefers even left the ship! Consequently, John F. Kennedy anchored in Augusta Bay on 1 September, for turnover with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rear Admiral Mixson, ComCarGru 2, assumed command of TF 60, and John F. Kennedy stood into the central Med to join Dwight D. Eisenhower for National Week ’90 exercises.
On 4 September 1990, John F. Kennedy took over as the Mediterranean carrier. Six days later, she anchored off Alexandria; the visit lasted for only three days, however, due to Iraqi overtures. The warship soon sailed once more; she transited the Suez Canal on 14 September and stood into the Red Sea. The next day, she joined Saratoga. The two carriers operated together for the next two days before John F. Kennedy assumed the watch in the Red Sea while Saratoga moved to the Med.
Two weeks passed without any major happenings on the carrier. Then, on 26 September 1990, an SH-3H Sea King from HS-7 (side number 610) splashed several miles from the ship after it lost power in one engine. The crew and passengers were rescued without injury by helo and motor whaleboat crews.
Throughout the rest of September and October, the carrier continued to exercise at general quarters. Aircraft launched nearly every day and conducted training sorties over Saudi Arabia. On 27 October, John F. Kennedy held a turnover with Saratoga and headed back to the Suez Canal. On 30 October, the carrier conducted a night transit to Gaeta, anchoring on 1 November.
While anchored in Gaeta, John F. Kennedy hosted the 6th Fleet change of command ceremony with Secretary of the Navy Lawrence Garrett III, as the guest speaker. Immediately following the ceremony and reception, the carrier weighed anchor and steamed south. Due to the situation in the Persian Gulf, the cancellation of her scheduled call at Naples, and the requirement for her to be within 72 hours steaming time of the Red Sea, John F. Kennedy visited Gezelbache, Turkey (7-14 November 1990), then got underway for Antalya, Turkey. En route, a National Broadcasting Company (NBC) news team recorded interviews for “The Today Show.” The ship arrived at Antalya on 19 November, just in time for Thanksgiving.
John F. Kennedy sailed from Antalya on 28 November 1990; the following day, 29 November, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 678 authorizing “member states cooperating with the Government of Kuwait to use all necessary means to uphold and implement the Security Council Resolution 660,” calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait, “and all subsequent relevant Resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.” The deadline for Iraq would be 15 January 1991.
On 30 November 1990, John F. Kennedy sailed for the Suez Canal. On 2 December, just after midnight, the warship made her third transit of the waterway during that deployment. She entered the Red Sea on 3 December and began turnover duties with Saratoga. The two carriers operated together and conducted simulated strikes on targets in western Saudi Arabia. Royal Air Force Vice Marshall William J. Wratten and Wing Commander Mick Richardson visited John F. Kennedy on 4 December from Tobuk, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the conduct of an air war with Iraq.
Captain John P. Gay relieved Captain Browne as commanding officer of John F. Kennedy on 7 December 1990. Rear Admiral Mixson, Commander, TG 150.5, on hand for the ceremony, presented Captain Browne with the Legion of Merit. This change of command ceremony proved unique in John F. Kennedy’s history as it was held while the ship was underway in the Red Sea. This was the first change of command ceremony conducted in the khaki working uniform with ball caps.
Media representatives from the Joint Information Bureau in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, flew out to John F. Kennedy on 13 December 1990 to discuss morale and holiday plans with the Sailors. Representatives from BBC-TV, the Associated Press, United Press International, WBZ (Boston) Radio, Independent Radio News, U.S. News and World Report, and Reuters stayed on board for two days.
After conducting several small-scale exercises, John F. Kennedy entered port in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the morning of 29 December 1990, thus becoming the first U.S. aircraft carrier to visit Saudi Arabia. The Saudis hospitably set up a bank of 100 telephones in a warehouse across the pier from where the carrier lay moored, from which the men could call their loved ones.
On New Year’s Day 1991, Vice President Dan Quayle paid a four-hour visit to John F. Kennedy, to demonstrate national solidarity with the forces deployed in Desert Shield and spoke to the sailors in the hangar bay of the ship. The next day, the carrier got underway from Jeddah to return to the Red Sea operating area and conducted a passing-at-sea exercise named Camelot with the Royal Saudi Arabian Navy and Air Force. Together, they trained in surface, sub-surface, and air warfare, in addition to underway replenishment, live firing, and shipping interdiction.
John F. Kennedy braced herself for the prospects of war. The training and practice runs became more intense when on 13 January 1991, word reached the ship that hostilities with Iraq were perceived as inevitable with pre-emptive strikes from Iraq probable. In response to this alert, John F. Kennedy increased her level of preparedness and set material condition zebra main deck and below.
Two days later, on 15 January 1991, the dialogue between the future combatants took an ominous tone. White House Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater warned that military action “could occur at any point after midnight 15 January Eastern Standard Time… Any moment after the 15th is borrowed time.” French Prime Minister Michel Rochard lamented “there is a fatal moment when one must act. This moment has, alas, arrived.” Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nassif Jassim, responding to pleas to withdraw Iraqi forces from Kuwait, dashed hopes for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. “Leave Kuwait?” he asked. “Kuwait is a province of Iraq and beyond discussion.” That same day, on board John F. Kennedy, the crew continued working up for strikes against Iraqi forces in the Red Sea, waiting for Iraq’s answer to the 15 January 1991 deadline.
Saddam Hussein’s forces did not budge. On 16 January 1991, 1650 Eastern Standard Time, a squadron of F-15E fighter-bombers took off from their base in central Saudi Arabia, and began hitting their targets in Kuwait and Iraq before 1900 Eastern Standard Time. At 2100 Eastern Standard Time, President Bush addressed the nation. Desert Shield was over and the liberation of Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm, had begun.
Before her first strikes were launched, Rear Admiral Mixson, Commander Red Sea Force, announced over John F. Kennedy’s 1MC the launch schedule that would commence the following day in less than ten hours. He congratulated the ship for being able to carry out the President’s orders and participate in air strikes on Iraq, strikes that John F. Kennedy had trained for. “You have trained hard. You are ready,” Rear Admiral Mixson concluded, “Now let’s execute. For the aircrews, we are all very, very proud of you. I wish you good hunting and God speed.”
On 17 January 1991, 0120 local time, (1720 Eastern Standard Time, 16 January) John F. Kennedy launched her first strikes on Iraq, a half-hour after the initial wave by USAF planes. CVW-3 launched two major strikes of 80 sorties. The mood of the ship had begun with jubilation, then became somber and then anxious as the ship waited for all of her aircraft to return safely. All aircraft were recovered unharmed, the returning aircrew reporting heavy, but ineffective, antiaircraft fire over Baghdad. The strikes had proved successful, prompting one pilot to describe the action thus: “Imagine the Disney World light show, then magnify it 100 times… that’s what it looked like from the sky last night… it was incredible!”
Starting on that first day of strikes, John F. Kennedy settled into a routine that lasted through the end of the conflict, engaging in a steady but fast-paced regimen of preparing aircraft, launching them, recovering them, repeating the process. All the while, they kept a mixture of hope and faith in the success of their aircrews, and a suspended disbelief in the lack of casualties. John F. Kennedy’s Intruders launched the first Standoff Land Attack Missiles in combat on 19 January.
The three carrier battle group operations in the Red Sea, commanded by Rear Admiral Mixson, also settled into a routine. John F. Kennedy, Saratoga, and America formed the nucleus of the three groups. Standard procedure called for six-day rotations. Two carriers would launch strike aircraft while the third would operate in an area known as “Gasoline Alley” for two days to replenish munitions, stores, and fuel. Each carrier would be “on the line” for four days conducting either a night or daytime flight operations schedule, then “off duty” for two days. While in “Gasoline Alley,” the carrier under replenishment would also be responsible for AAW, AEW and CTTG alerts.
Detached from the Red Sea Battle Force on 7 February 1991, America proceeded to the Persian Gulf. John F. Kennedy and Saratoga changed their procedure to six days on line and two days off duty. In addition to launching strikes, the on-cycle carrier flew combat air patrol aircraft and stood CTTG, while the off-cycle carrier stood AAW, AEW, CTTG, and ASUW alerts when both carriers were on the line. When one of the two carriers was under replenishment, the other carrier would assume responsibility for all alerts. The carrier’s duty cycles of morning (A.M.) or evening (P.M.) were specified as 0000-1500 or 1200-0300 to accommodate returning strike recovery times. Each carrier launched two large strikes with times on target around nine hours apart to allow for deck respot and weapons loading. CAP cycle times were A.M. or P.M. for 12-hour periods.
The P.M. carrier was also responsible for S-3 pickup of the next day’s air tasking order from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. They also had to relay the message to the A.M. carrier. The air tasking order was retrieved in hard copy form because of the incompatibility between U.S. Air Force and Navy communications systems. The Air Force housed the theater air warfare commander, so the Navy had to play by their rules. While the P.M. carrier’s S-3 picked up the daily orders, the A.M. carrier’s S-3 delivered Scud missile TARPS to Riyadh by 0700 local time.
The war had not reached as quick a conclusion as John F. Kennedy’s crew would have liked. The carrier was scheduled to return-from-deployment on 15 February 1991 That same day, Saddam Hussein issued a statement concerning Iraq’s stated intention to withdraw from Kuwait, prompting cheer and jubilation from the Sailors. Their euphoria quickly dissipated once the conditions of Iraq’s withdrawal became evident. John F. Kennedy’s return-from-deployment date was cancelled. The general tone of the crew, one observer wrote later, was one of a desire to “hurry up and get it over with.” The carrier continued to launch air strikes right throughout the week that led up to the 24 February launch of the ground assault on Kuwait. When the crew learned that Desert Storm combat operations had ceased on 28 February, they were quite subdued. John F. Kennedy had launched a total of 114 strikes during the 42 days of conflict. 2895 combat sorties were flown for a total of 11,263.4 flight hours. The men were too tired to celebrate. They simply wanted to go home.
Many of John F. Kennedy’s men felt understandably dismayed when they learned that they would be making one more stop before heading home. Before embarking on her passage, the carrier set material condition Yoke on the main decks and below, instead of Zebra, for the first time since 13 January 1991. On 4 March, John F. Kennedy became the first-ever American warship to conduct a port visit at Hurghada, Egypt, but, as her chronicler wrote later: “The crew’s impatience to get home,” one observer in the ship later wrote, “was not helped by the necessity for canceling boating at Hurghada because of high winds and seas” from 5 to 7 March.
John F. Kennedy weighed anchor off Hurghada at midnight on 10 March 1991 and dropped anchor late in the afternoon of the following day at Port Suez to prepare for the Canal transit. The carrier got underway at 0545, 12 March, for her long journey home.
At 1430 on 28 March 1991, John F. Kennedy moored at Pier 12, greeted by a throng bearing balloons, banners, and flags. 30,000 family members and supporters showed up to welcome Big John home in a celebration that rivaled those at the end of World War II in magnitude and enthusiasm. John F. Kennedy’s principal return banner bared the same initials of her proud namesake: “Justice For Kuwait.” Her battle group and Saratoga’s were the first such units to return to the continental United States.
John F. Kennedy immediately commenced a post-deployment stand down. Approximately half of the crew went on leave for one of the two-week leave periods through the end of April 1991. Simultaneously, she entered a selected restricted availability period and commenced maintenance, repairs, and upgrade at Norfolk Naval Station until 28 May, when she shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for more extensive work.
Now that John F. Kennedy was in port, the SRA of the summer of 1991 planned to accomplish several major upgrades and overhauls: reconfiguration of the aircraft maintenance spaces to handle the F/A-18 Hornet, installation of the NTCS-A command and control system, replacement of the non-skid surface on the flight deck and hangar bay deck, and extensive repairs to boilers, piping, electrical generators, and air conditioning equipment. There was also extensive replacement of galley and laundry equipment and installation of the Uniform Micro-Computer Information Data System program, which allowed much quicker disbursing for the benefit of the crew.
John F. Kennedy remained at Norfolk Naval Shipyard until 1 October 1991, after suffering two false starts on 25 and 28 September. On 1 October, she steamed for the Virginia capes where she conducted sea trials and recertification for flight deck operations. She commenced carquals on 3 October. The carrier then steamed south and late afternoon on 10 October, moored at Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was in town for a good will visit to celebrate the Navy’s birthday in connection with Broward Navy Days. The local citizens and merchants of Fort Lauderdale extended great hospitality to John F. Kennedy, and they reciprocated by opening up for special tours and general visiting on 11-14 October. Aircraft from CVW-3 were on the flight deck for static display throughout the port visit.
John F. Kennedy conducted another Tiger Cruise back to Norfolk on 15 October 1991. The carrier and 300 dependents were scheduled to be pier side on 17 October, but winds of 50 knots made it prudent for the ship to delay proceeding into port until the next day, when she moored alongside Pier 12. The remainder of October and most of November saw more guests, and repairs and upkeep, particularly concentrated on the flight deck and flight deck equipment and engineering equipment and systems in preparation for the December underway period.
John F. Kennedy planned to get underway for carquals on 2 December 1991, but heavy fog and rain prohibited the ship from departing Norfolk until the morning of the following day. That set of qualifications saw the first carrier landings and takeoffs by the Navy’s new trainer, the T-45 Goshawk. Also, John F. Kennedy took on the new role of conducting training command carquals for pilots flying the North American T-2 Buckeye and Douglas TA-4 Skyhawk on 8 December. The ship returned to Norfolk on 17 December and began a holiday leave period that concluded 6 January 1992.
John F. Kennedy would not be underway again until 15 January 1992, when she stood out to proceed to the waters off Jacksonville and Key West for carquals for the replacement and fleet squadrons and begin the training cycle leading to deployment. That same day, the ship embarked a four-man video production crew from the Discovery Channel who sought to describe military use of satellites for a special feature program “Space Age.” The footage shot on board John F. Kennedy formed a portion of the hour-long military focus segment of the program.
John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk on 31 January 1992, and did not get underway again until 26 February, when she sailed, with Captain Timothy R. Beard, prospective commanding officer, on board for orientation, to conduct fleet carquals off the Virginia capes and northern Jacksonville operating areas. Following those evolutions, Captain Beard relieved Captain Gay on 6 March.
Refresher training preparations began on 9 March 1992 and ran until 3 April, evolutions that would determine how ready the ship and air wing were and would certify them both as ready to begin unrestricted training in the pre-deployment work-up training cycle. Those preparations included multiple self-inspections of the material readiness of all ship’s spaces and damage control equipment, as well as frequent early morning general quarters drills. The carrier got underway on 1 April and commenced the exercises on 4 April with a series of drills at general quarters and with evaluated combat systems, seamanship, and flight deck exercises.
John F. Kennedy’s refresher training proved far from “smooth sailing.” Initially, the ship’s success at setting material conditions yoke and zebra was not good, particularly because of the amount of time and effort spent correcting discrepancies from the previous drills. In response to these shortcomings, 9 April 1992 became a stand-down day for correcting discrepancies and refocusing damage control efforts. The ship achieved satisfactory results on setting material conditions the next day, however, the scores received for yoke and zebra were 75.1% and 65.04% respectively. 62.5% was considered a passing score. Thereafter, drills were completely productive and culminated with a major conflagration exercise beginning at 0400 on 14 April.
On 11 April 1992, at the request of the Naval War College, a news team from WJAR-TV, an NBC-affiliated station in Providence, Rhode Island, embarked to produce a TV story to better acquaint the citizens of Rhode Island with the mission and operation of the fleet. On 14 April, another reporter from WTKR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Norfolk, arrived to film a segment called “Captains and Their Ships” while the carrier was in the Tidewater area.
The remainder of April 1992 and the early part of May focused on preparations for an operational exercise and Fleet Week ‘92 in New York City. On 11 May, John F. Kennedy conducted limited operations for CVW-3, then continued carquals in the Virginia capes operating areas, before she moved north to facilitate a 19 May embarkation, for an overnight visit of 50 New Yorkers, preceding the ship’s arrival. Also visiting the ship were the late President Kennedy’s two children: Mrs. Carolyn [Kennedy] Schlossberg, John F. Kennedy’s sponsor, and John F. Kennedy, Jr., accompanied by eleven senior police officials from the city of New York. The carrier moored at the Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal on the Hudson River on 20 May.
John F. Kennedy’s arrival in New York kicked off Fleet Week ’92. Rear Admiral James A. Lair acted as senior officer present afloat (SOPA) for the various ships in New York for the events, which included the submarine tender L.Y. Spear (AS-36), guided missile frigate Clifton Sprague (FFG-16), frigate Donald B. Beary (FF-1085), amphibious assault ship Guadalcanal (LPH-7), Coast Guard cutter Tahoma (WMEC-908) and the French destroyer Aconit.
Fleet Week ‘92 drew to a close on 26 May 1992, and by sunset John F. Kennedy had cleared the harbor and coastal areas. The next day, she launched CVW-3’s squadrons to return to their home bases while a combat systems readiness review team embarked to conduct tests, inspections, and review readiness of the ship’s combat systems. She moored at Norfolk on 29 May.
The combat systems readiness review team finished its work on board John F. Kennedy on 5 June 1992, and an operational propulsion plant examination conducted on 15 June certified the ship for two years’ steaming. She then spent the remainder of that month and the early part of the next preparing for composite training unit exercises (CompTUEx). On 10 July, Rear Admiral Frederick L. Lewis, ComCarGru 4, broke his flag in John F. Kennedy as the training carrier group commander. The ship got underway on 13 July for carquals and CompTUEx in Puerto Rican waters.
On 22 July 1992, John F. Kennedy hosted retired Major General Mary E. Clarke, USA, retired Brigadier General Samuel E. Cockerham, USA, writer and former DACOWITS member Elaine Donnelly, and reserve USAF Master Sergeant Sarah White, of the Presidential Commission on Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces as they visited the ship for an orientation into life at sea and carrier aviation. The four commission members observed the crew’s working and living conditions and interviewed various members of the ship’s company and aircrews, gathering their thoughts, opinions, perceptions and expectations on serving with women. The Commission’s report of their visit would be enclosed with their report to the President on 15 November for his subsequent report to Congress a month later.
Tragedy struck the carrier’s air wing during her operations in Puerto Rican waters on 24 July 1992. Commander Robert K. Christensen, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 37’s commanding officer, apparently lost orientation and flew his F/A-18C (AC 302) into the sea during a training night attack mission over Vieques.
The next day, 25 July 1992, John F. Kennedy anchored off St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands for a scheduled four-day port visit, a memorial service being held for Commander Christensen being held as soon as the ship dropped anchor. However, late that same day, the ship received orders to get underway as soon as possible. An emergency recall of the crew was ordered and the ship was underway the following day, joining Carrier Task Force (CTF) 24.1, bound for the Med in response to Iraq’s recalcitrance in abiding by the cease-fire agreement imposed by the United Nations. CTF 24.1, under Rear Admiral James A. Lair, also included guided missile cruisers Gettysburg (CG-64), Leyte Gulf (CG-55), and Wainwright (CG-28), guided missile frigates Halyburton (FFG-40) and McInerney (FFG-8), frigate Capodanno (FF-1093), and underway replenishment oiler Kalamazoo (AOR-6). On 28 July, however, the sortie toward the Med was cancelled and the ships ordered to return to scheduled training in the North Puerto Rican operating area.
Once John F. Kennedy returned to Puerto Rican waters, the CompTUEx continued with Rear Admiral Lewis resuming command of the battle group to continue the exercises. Tragedy struck the air wing again, however, when on 31 July 1992 an E-2C from VAW-126 reported experiencing difficulties and the cockpit filling with smoke. The plane crashed into the sea approximately four miles from the ship and 60 miles north of Puerto Rico. Lieutenant Commander Alan M. McLachlen, Lieutenants Michael F. Horowitz and Tristram E. Farmer, and Lieutenant (j.g.)s Richard Siter, Jr., and Thomas D. Plautz, perished in the mishap; only one body was recovered, the others entombed with the Hawkeye in over 20,000 feet of water. A memorial service honored the lost VAW-126 crew, as well as for Commander Christensen, VFA-137’s commanding officer who had died a week earlier, was held on 1 August.
Once the ship and air wing were certified for deployment, the ship chopped to Commander 2nd Fleet on 6 August 1992, and returned to Norfolk on 10 August. She spent the remainder of August and beginning of September in preparation for fleet exercises and her subsequent deployment. On 21 August, that deployment date was announced as 7 October 1992.
After conducting two days of carquals off the Virginia capes (9-11 September 1992) John F. Kennedy remained in those waters and participated in fleet exercises with a battle group that consisted of the ships from the earlier constituted CTF 24.1 in addition to the command ship Mount Whitney (LCC-20) and destroyer Caron (DD-970). Various media representatives covered the exercises, pursuing the story of the Navy’s role and its response to various missions. The training concluded on 17 September and John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk the following day.
The crew initiated a pre-overseas movement (POM) stand down to allow half the crew to take leave until 27 September 1992 and the other half to take leave from 27 September to 5 October. The ship continued to load out and complete maintenance required for deployment through the stand down period. John F. Kennedy got underway for deployment on 7 October. She conducted two days of refresher carquals for the air wing and then began the Atlantic transit on 9 October 1992 accompanied by her old consorts Gettysburg, Leyte Gulf, Wainwright, Caron, Halyburton, McInerney, Capodanno, and the attack submarines Seahorse (SSN-669) and Albuquerque (SSN-706), supported by ammunition ship Santa Barbara (AE-28) and Kalamazoo. A two-plane C-2 detachment from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 40 also deployed with the carrier, a new support concept during the deployment. An intense focus on ensuring chemical warfare defense readiness, cleanliness, and safety training, marked the trans-Atlantic voyage. On 18 October, the warship transited the Strait of Gibraltar and three days later, the Strait of Messina. She anchored off Brindisi, Italy, on 22 October to conduct turnover with Saratoga.
John F. Kennedy then set her course up the Adriatic. On 23 October 1992, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney visited the ship to demonstrate national support for the battle group and promote morale among the crew. She continued to conduct air operations in the Adriatic without incident until 30 October, when she anchored at Naples for a port visit. Once underway again, from 4-6 November, she hosted a group of USAF officers from Headquarters USAFE for orientation, including carrier aircraft flights. The following day, 15 officers from the Belgian Air Force, including instructors and students from the Fighter Weapons Instructor Training course on 7 November.
On 13 November 1992, John F. Kennedy anchored off Alexandria to conduct training and planning for Operation Seawind with the Egyptian Navy and Air Force. The evolution began on 15 November. As the exercise proceeded, however, during the first watch on 18 November, in waters about 50 miles north of the Egyptian coast, Capodanno, one of the ships in John F. Kennedy’s battle group, sighted two flares fired from a Russian Vishnaya-class intelligence collection ship, SSV-175, while the frigate’s embarked SH-2F from HSL-32, Detachment 5, received a medical distress call on an international distress radio frequency. The urgent message, relayed to John F. Kennedy, soon resulted in Capodanno’s Seasprite landing on board the carrier and embarking Lieutenant Eric T. Hanson, MC, a flight surgeon, and Hospitalman 3d Class Depietro. Chief Radioman Terrance J. George, a translator, accompanied them. Flown to the frigate, the emergency medical team then embarked in her motor whaleboat to be transported to the Russian ship, where they found that resuscitation efforts had been on-going for about three hours on a man who had fallen overboard. Sadly, the object of the strenuous life-saving efforts had suffered a head injury incident to his falling over the side and had not responded to treatment, and had, in fact, expired by the time the team arrived. Ultimately, Lieutenant Hanson pronounced the man dead, and the Americans returned to Capodanno, reporting that the Russians had been “overwhelmingly grateful” for their attempts to revive their shipmate.
On 19 November 1992, John F. Kennedy embarked twelve senior Egyptian Navy and Air Force officers, including Vice Admiral Ahmed Ali Fadel, Commander of Naval Operations of the Egyptian Navy, for a debrief on Operation Seawind. Four days later, TV reporter Joe Flannagan and his film crew from Norfolk TV station WVEC, embarked in John F. Kennedy for extensive coverage to be used on a Christmas Eve telecast. After the debrief for Seawind and a weapons on-load, the ship anchored in Trieste on 25 November. She the sailed at 0740 on 30 November to participate in African Eagle with Moroccan forces. The carrier welcomed another reporter, Terry Zahn from channel 10, WAVY, Norfolk, from 2-4 December, to film a Christmas special.
African Eagle began on 6 December 1992 with an amphibious landing. During the exercise, an F-14 from VF-14 apparently struck a cable during a low-level flight over Morocco, but the ship recovered the Tomcat without incident and with minor damage to its port wing slat. With the exercise completed, John F. Kennedy began a slow transit to Marseille, conducting flight operations en route. On 19 December, a group of senior French naval officers and their wives visited the carrier for orientation, prior to the ship’s port visit. She moored in Marseille the morning of 21 December.
John F. Kennedy’s visit reflected the same type of atmosphere as had prevailed during Fleet Week in New York, due to the interest of the French people. Many social activities ensued due to the cooperation of the Marseille Navy League, the Association France-Etats Unis, the American Consulate and the French Navy. Five days after Christmas of 1992, however, holiday cheer was temporarily muted when John F. Kennedy was earmarked to proceed on underway operations at a 12-hour notice, in response to potential U.S. resolve to intervene in the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Fortunately, the carrier remained in Marseille and departed as previously scheduled.
John F. Kennedy weighed anchor on 4 January 1993 and sailed for the Ionian Sea. During the passage, she conducted flight operations and exercises. On 14 January, the warship transited the Strait of Messina, and the next day moored at Naples, where representatives from the Combat Camera Unit, CinCUSNavEur, embarked to take photos and shoot video footage of John F. Kennedy and her air wing for contingency coverage.
On 17 January 1993, after just two-and-a-half days in port, however, John F. Kennedy received orders to get underway for contingency operations while U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile attacks were in progress in Iraq. Accordingly, she sailed that evening and cruised towards the Strait of Messina. After clearing that body of water, she commenced a high-speed run eastward; while en route, the crew conducted chemical warfare defense training. On 20 January, John F. Kennedy conducted operations with Gettysburg and Leyte Gulf.
John F. Kennedy began conducting flight operations in the eastern Med on 21 January 1993. Those continued until 28 January, when the carrier turned around and began transit out of the region. On 1 February, she welcomed Vice Admiral Lefebvre of the French Navy.
One week later, on 8 February 1993, John F. Kennedy anchored at Trieste along with Wainwright. The two ships departed on 15 February and headed to the Adriatic to conduct flight operations. On 20 February, the carrier conducted flight operations in the Ionian Sea. On 25 February, John F. Kennedy began monitoring airdrops over Bosnia-Herzegovina in conjunction with Operation Provide Promise. She continued that duty until 25 March when she conducted turnover with Theodore Roosevelt.
With the end of her deployment drawing near, John F. Kennedy began heading westward. In preparation for her homeward voyage, she embarked family service support people by aircraft; the carrier transited the Strait of Gibraltar on 28 March 1993 and conducted a missile exercise two days later. While transiting the Atlantic Ocean, the carrier conducted flight operations. Inspectors flew on board and began a shipwide material condition inspection that continued until the return to Norfolk. On 4 April, John F. Kennedy anchored off Bermuda. On 6 April, CVW-3’s squadrons flew off to return to their respective bases. The next day, 7 April, John F. Kennedy moored alongside Norfolk Naval Station’s Pier 11, welcomed by throngs of friends and family.
John F. Kennedy continued her stand down period for the first week of May 1993. Prior to getting underway on the morning of 10 May, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee came aboard to tour living spaces on the ship studying berthing requirements. The carrier sailed later that morning and conducted flight operations in the afternoon. Those operations continued until 19 May. On 16 May, a group of Tuskegee Airmen embarked for a general aircraft carrier orientation.
On 18 May 1993, the Chief and Associate Judges from the United States Court of Military Appeals, Flag Legal Officers, distinguished legal visitors and several legal officers paid a visit to John F. Kennedy. The purpose of their visit was twofold: to educate the crew on the purpose and workings of the Court of Military Appeals and to provide a Fleet orientation to senior civilian and military personnel in the Department of Defense legal system.
After completing her carquals, John F. Kennedy moored to Pier 12 on 21 May 1993. On 24 May, she got underway for New York City, and moored at pier 88 North upon her arrival for Fleet Week. Two days after she had arrived, “Good Morning America” broadcast live from the flight deck; “CBS This Morning” broadcast from the carrier on 31 May. The following day, John F. Kennedy got underway at 1400 for a Tiger Cruise. Arriving in Norfolk on 3 June, the ship disembarked her passengers and got underway that same day at 1711 for carquals.
On 24 June 1993, Captain Joseph R. Hutchison relieved Captain Beard as commanding officer. A little less than a month later, on 20 July, John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk for carquals. On 31 July, the ship held her Dependent’s Day Cruise and returned to Norfolk.
Not scheduled for any operations during August 1993, John F. Kennedy continued to prepare for her upcoming yard period, work interrupted as the month drew to a close with the approach of Hurricane Emily. John F. Kennedy sortied on 30 August, but within hours of clearing Norfolk, experienced a fire in the number four main machinery room that took five minutes to extinguish and caused neither casualties nor permanent damage. John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk on 2 September, after Emily’s departure.
Three days later, on 5 September 1993, John F. Kennedy hosted a gala to commemorate her Silver Anniversary, attended by her sponsor, Mrs. Caroline [Kennedy] Schlossberg. “Growing up it always meant so much to my brother and me to know that this ship, and all of you, were bringing my father’s name and memory around the world,” she told the crew. “We were so proud whenever we would read of ‘Big John’ in the newspapers being in the Mediterranean, in Desert Storm, in the Adriatic or in New York Harbor. We would always say a special prayer for this ship and her crew.”
On 13 September 1993, John F. Kennedy sailed for Philadelphia, embarking guests who welcomed the ship to the city that would be her home for two years. The following day, she went into drydock at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to begin a $491,000,000 comprehensive overhaul. Mayor Ed Rendell, U.S. Senator Harris Wofford, and Congressman Rob Andrews embarked via helicopter to welcome John F. Kennedy to the city, Mayor Rendell bringing along 3,000 soft pretzels for the crew.
Some immediate projects included the removal of asbestos, completed on 15 October, and the removal of organotin, completed on 5 November. On 18 November, the first of her propellers was removed, and with it, any doubts that John F. Kennedy could be dispatched in any sort of emergency. The carrier completed her first Quarterly Progress Review on 8 December. The next day, the bow anchor and chain were removed. Four days before Christmas, John F. Kennedy hosted Robert J. “B.J.” McHugh Jr., an eight-year-old bone cancer patient, who received a tour of the ship with his family, as a guest of Captain Hutchison, and lunched with the Chief Petty Officers.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig addressed John F. Kennedy’s future on 5 August 1994. “On 1 October 1995,” he announced, John F. Kennedy would be “designated an operational reserve carrier and reserve force ship assigned to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.” Following an initial deployment, the carrier would be available to deploy with either an active or reserve air wing when mobilized in support of urgent operational requirements. John F. Kennedy’s new primary function during contingency operations would be to provide a surge capability, and in peacetime, to support training requirements. She would participate regularly in routine fleet exercises, carquals and battle group training.
Undocked and moved to Pier Six on 15 November 1994, John F. Kennedy began 1995 with a change of command ceremony in January, Captain Gerald L. Hoewing relieving Captain Hutchison. Eight months later, John F. Kennedy got underway for the first time in over two years, her underway period prolonged briefly by the presence of Hurricane Felix.
On 3 September 1995, John F. Kennedy completed her overhaul and sailed for Mayport. During the underway period, the carrier completed her first carquals in over two years. The ship received a warm welcome from Mayport upon her arrival on 22 September.
The year 1995 closed with John F. Kennedy’s role ever changing. The ship conducted a ten-day fast cruise to provide extensive training for the crew and to ensure more sailors met damage control, engineering casualty control and general shipboard readiness standards. Hangar Bays One and Two were resurfaced during the month of December. John F. Kennedy held a shipboard holiday party on Christmas.
In June and July of 1996, John F. Kennedy made a North Atlantic deployment. From 2 to 25 July, the carrier exercised off the coast of Ireland. From 2 through 7 July, she made a port visit to Dublin, Ireland, where she hosted receptions for the public. Her air wing provided static displays at Dublin and Shannon International Airports. They also completed both day and night refresher carquals. Later that year, the carrier and CVW-8 developed F-14 and F/A-18 mixed tactics. VFA-15 flew opposed strikes with VF-41 to central Florida, Key West and North Carolina.
The secretaries of the Navy, Air Force and Army embarked for an overnight stay and conference on 4 October 1996. Each dignitary arrived in a different aircraft: Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton in an F-14 Tomcat, Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall in an F/A-18 Hornet, and Secretary of the Army Togo West in an Army H-60 Blackhawk. All three toured areas of the ship specialized for operations involving two or more of the services; their meeting focused on command and control, communications, computers and intelligence.
John F. Kennedy and her air wing, CVW-8, began 1997 with composite training unit exercises (4-12 February), followed by Joint Task Force Exercise ’97-2 (7-23 March), both of which took place in the Puerto Rico operating area, evolutions that tested the ship and her air wing in simulating threats and challenges facing a battle group during deployment and in forward-deployed joint operations. Joining the John F. Kennedy Battle Group were the Kearsarge (LHD-3) Amphibious Ready Group; elements from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit; elements of the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps, 18th Aviation Brigade, and the 82nd Airborne Division; the USAF Air Combat and Air Mobility Commands; Special Operations Command; U.S. Space Command; the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Maritime Forces.
Sadly, during the Joint Task Force Exercise ’97-2, HS-3 lost one of its Seahawks (Troubleshooter 615) that crashed, with the loss of its entire crew, while attempting a landing on board the guided missile frigate Taylor (FFG-50) on 13 March 1997.
The training sharpened the skills of the crew as they prepared to take their station to support U.S. foreign policy in Bosnia and Iraq. John F. Kennedy, with CVW-8 (VF-14 and VF-41, VFA-15 and VFA-87, VAW-124, VAQ-141, Sea Control Squadron (VS) 24 and HS-3) embarked began her movement toward the Med with carquals (29-30 April), and then in-chopped to the 6th Fleet on 12-13 May 1997, relieving Theodore Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy’s consorts included destroyers Spruance (DD-963) and John Hancock (DD-981), guided missile cruisers Hue City (CG-66), Vicksburg (CG-69) and Thomas S. Gates (CG-51) and guided missile frigate Taylor.
Soon after John F. Kennedy reached the Mediterranean, she participated in the French invitational exercise, Iles D’Or 97 (20-29 May 1997). The carrier, along with Hue City, Vicksburg, and French Navy units, practiced tactical maneuvers and deterrence operations. Liaison officers from the battle group served in French ships during the exercise and gained insights and perspectives of the complexities of coalition operations.
John F. Kennedy then participated in Operation Deliberate Guard (19-22 June 1997), operating in the Adriatic, CVW-8 flying “real world” missions over Bosnia-Herzegovina. HS-3, during that time, sent one of its SH-60Fs to operate to guided missile cruiser Vicksburg, to support an ASW exercise, Sharem-121. These peacekeeping and presence missions over Bosnia, meanwhile, took place in an unpredictable threat environment. CVW-8 improved their night operations capabilities, real-time reconnaissance information gathering, and air-to-ground ordnance delivery during that period. The ship then visited Koper, Slovenia (23-25 June) where over 11,000 Slovenians visited her, her visit coinciding with their country’s independence day. Soon thereafter, John F. Kennedy participated in the U.S.-led exercise that involved ships from Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Germany and the United Kingdom.
After visiting Haifa (8-14 August 1997), John F. Kennedy operated in the eastern Med, then headed for Suez, transiting the canal on 17 August and setting course for the Arabian Gulf. Transiting the Strait of Hormuz on 29 August, she proceeded into the Gulf, and began supporting Operation Southern Watch. CVW-8 patrolled the “No Fly Zone” while on John F. Kennedy’s flight deck, crews toiled in wilting, enervating, heat, with an index of 140 degrees daily. Shortly after the carrier’s Persian Gulf stint (1-6 September), she visited Bahrain (7-9 September), before getting underway to participate in Exercise Beacon Flash (13-17 September) that pitted CVW-8 against the Omani Air Force and their Hawk and Jaguar aircraft.
After transiting the Suez Canal (25 September 1997), John F. Kennedy resumed operations in the Med, taking part in another exercise, Dynamic Mix (1-5 October) that involved forces from Italy, Germany, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. After visiting Tarragona, Spain (8-13 October), John F. Kennedy, relieved by George Washington (CVN-73) on 16 October 1997, headed for Mayport, carrying out a Tiger Cruise (25-28 October) that concluded with the ship’s arrival at Mayport to wind up the deployment.
In 1998, John F. Kennedy served as the flagship for ComCarGru2 during Fleet Week ’98. More than 14 ships from three navies participated in the event. Distinguished visitors included the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton, Secretary of the Navy Dalton, and the Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City. In mid-July, the carrier steamed from her homeport in Mayport, Florida, to the Puerto Rican operations area for training and carquals.
From 11 to 19 November 1998, John F. Kennedy participated in Exercise Fuertes Defensas 98/99 at Dam Neck, Virginia in a simulated battle space. The evolution provided an opportunity for the ship to sharpen her skills in the areas of maritime interceptions, mine countermeasures, naval coastal warfare, strike warfare, and support joint and combined forces ashore. It demonstrated the challenges to establishing and operating a Joint Task Force, and the importance of joint doctrine and cooperative command relationships.
After upkeep in Mayport, which lasted until 22 January 1999, John F. Kennedy resumed work in the Jacksonville operating area from 25 January until 1 February, after which she returned to Mayport for more upkeep that lasted until 3 March. John F. Kennedy prepared for her upcoming tailored ship’s training availability through 12 March and then lay pierside at Mayport (12 March-5 April). From 6-30 April, CVW-1 embarked in John F. Kennedy for tailored ship’s training availability. During this period, the carrier participated in Exercise El Morro Castle, which involved several U.S. allies, including elements of the British, Canadian and Spanish Navies, upon completion of which she returned to Mayport. On 9 June, the carrier participated in another phase of a tailored ship’s training availability, a CompTUEx during which the wing’s aircraft scored multiple hits on it’s target, the decommissioned destroyer ex-William C. Lawe (DD-768), and a joint task force exercise, after which the ship and her air wing were deemed “battle ready” for their upcoming deployment.
John F. Kennedy underwent tailored ship’s training availability training from 11-20 June 1999 and another CompTUEx from 21-30 June. John F. Kennedy then enjoyed a six-day port visit at St. Maartin before hoisting anchor and participating in another CompTUEx from 7-17 July. From 20-29 July, the carrier participated in a joint task force exercise. She returned to Mayport the next day, where, on 6 August, Captain Michael H. Miller relieved Captain Robin Y. Weber.
John F. Kennedy conducted a Family Day cruise on 29 August 1999, and then settled into for an upkeep slated to last until 16 September. Hurricane Floyd, however, compelled a change of plans as what was considered to be the worst hurricane to hit the eastern seaboard since Andrew (1992), arrived. The carrier put to sea on 13 September to ride out the storm.
Two days later, John F. Kennedy received a message from the Coast Guard telling of a distress call from Gulf Majesty, a 150-foot ocean-going tug that had been towing a 669-by-103-foot container barge. Her eight-man crew reported that they were unable to save the boat, and after grabbing their emergency position indicator beacon, abandoned their craft in a life raft in the 30-foot seas and 50-knot winds. As the nearest ship to the foundering tug, John F. Kennedy launched two of HS-11’s HH-60H Seahawks, flown by Lieutenant Commander Edward J. D’Angelo and Lieutenants Ruben Ramos, Christopher I. Pesile, and David H. Rios, with Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 3d Class Timothy F. Lemmerman, Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operators 3d Class Sean P. Whitfield, Michael P. Tungett, Shad D. Hernandez, William A. Beasley and Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 2d Class David R. Matthews as rescue aircrewmen, to respond. One of the helicopters found three members of the crew in the water clutching their distress beacon and picked them up. A Coast Guard Lockheed HC-130 Hercules from Clearwater, Florida, flew to the scene and located the remaining crewmen who were found and rescued by HS-11, too. Not only did they rescue Gulf Majesty’s crew, however, but they also carried out a medical evacuation flight for a paralyzed merchant mariner who had suffered a back injury on board his ship during the hurricane. The Seahawk crews had flown 13.3 hours in hurricane conditions to carry out their missions of mercy.
John F. Kennedy returned to Mayport on 16 September 1999 to embark the rest of her air wing for deployment, and sailed for the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf on 17 September, accompanied by destroyers Spruance and John Hancock, guided missile cruiser Monterey (CG-61), and guided missile frigates Underwood (FFG-36), and Taylor. On 29 September 1999, John F. Kennedy conducted turnover with Constellation (CV-64), transited the Strait of Gibraltar on 3 October, and immediately began conducting Freedom of Navigation operations off the coast of Libya. John F. Kennedy arrived at Malta on 6 October.
Detachments from CVW-1 participated in Frisian Flag ’99 (27 September-8 October 1999) at Leeuwarden Royal Netherlands Air Force Base in the province of Frisland, Holland. The exercise offered John F. Kennedy’s pilots an opportunity to practice multiple threat combat operations with other Allies in an integrated sea, land, and air environment, as well as familiarizing themselves with U.S. Navy operations and procedures in Northern Europe with its varied weather and geography. Frisian Flag ’99 featured CVW-1, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Royal Air Force, Luftwaffe, German Navy, USAF, and NATO E-3 AWACS aircraft, as well as the Dutch army and several warships of the Dutch and German navies. Naval, air and ground forces were integrated and the NATO pilots planned, briefed, and executed large-scale operations which typically consisted of attacks on land, sea and air targets, usually against high AAA and SAM threats, as well as opposing aircraft. The operating airspace stretched all the way from the English to the Dutch and German coasts.
From 15-30 October 1999, John F. Kennedy participated in Bright Star 1999, an exercise that enabled CVW-1 to train with Egyptian Air and Special Operations forces and involved the deployment of 705 fixed and rotary wing aircraft from seven nations. The CVW-1 pilots dropped live laser-guided and inert bombs in Egypt and on the nearby target island of Avgo Nisi.
John F. Kennedy transited the Suez Canal on 31 October 1999, to support Operation Southern Watch and UN sanctions against Iraq. The next day, having just arrived on station, CVW-1 commenced flight operations. During the deployment, John F. Kennedy became the first aircraft carrier ever to make a part call on Al Aqabah, Jordan, arriving on 1 November for a three-day port visit. On 4 November, she hosted Jordan’s King Abdullah II, an accomplished Blackhawk pilot, who flew the Seahawk sent to retrieve him from Al Aqabah to the carrier, 120 miles away. King Abdullah later joined Commander Mark P. Molidor, VF-102’s commanding officer, in his Tomcat for a launch and recovery in the Red Sea. That same day, the carrier also began participating in exercise Black Shark, which ran from 4-6 November.
John F. Kennedy began operating on 10 November 1999 in support of Southern Watch with daily missions over southern Iraq. Four days after she commenced those operations, tragedy struck when an S-3B (BuNo 158864) from VS-32 suddenly rolled left during take-off on 14 November. The Viking crashed into the Arabian Gulf immediately following the catapult shot, and sank, carrying Lieutenants Matthew Moneymaker and Mike Meschke down with it. During the memorial service conducted on the carrier’s flight deck the next day, Rear Admiral John Johnson, ComCarGru 6, John F. Kennedy’s Captain Miller, Captain Patrick M. Walsh, Commander, CVW-1, Commander William H. Valentine, commanding officer of VS-32, all eulogized the lost aviators.
John F. Kennedy flew missions in support of Southern Watch for another week, until 21 November 1999, followed by another stint from 27-30 November, 9-22 December, and 28 December-11 January 2000, punctuating those operational periods with visits to Bahrain (23-27 November), during which time (26 November) Admiral Jay L. Johnson, the Chief of Naval Operations, presented the pilots and aircrew from the two HS-11 helicopters that were involved in the Hurricane Floyd rescues, with awards for their actions, and Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates (22-28 December). CVW-1’s planes flew interdiction missions, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), tactical reconnaissance escort, and DCA flights. During these operations, VFA-86 combat tested a SLAM-ER (standoff land attack missile, expanded response) for the first time. Also, VFA-82 recorded the Navy’s first operations use of the joint direct attack munition (JDAM) in combat during a strike against Iraqi air defenses. The carrier’s pilots destroyed radar sites, anti-aircraft artillery and SAM sites.
John F. Kennedy, conducting missions in support of Southern Watch at the time, became the “Carrier of the New Millennium” on 1 January 2000 by virtue of her being the only carrier underway when 2000 arrived. January 2000 also saw two more port visits to Dubai, the first from 12-14 January and the second from 29 January through 3 February. On 22 February, John F. Kennedy finished her last mission in support of Southern Watch and the next day turned over to John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and departed the Persian Gulf via the Red Sea. The carrier transited the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean on 2 March. After a brief port visit to Tarragona, Spain, from 6-8 March, the ship entered the Atlantic Ocean. On 16 March, she embarked family members at Bermuda for a Tiger Cruise for the final leg of the voyage home that came to a conclusion on 18 March when John F. Kennedy returned to Mayport.
John F. Kennedy remained at her homeport until 26 April 2000, when she proceeded to the Jacksonville Operating Area to complete her ammunition offload. The carrier returned to Mayport on 1 May for ten more days of upkeep. On 12 May, she began two weeks of carquals, followed by another upkeep period in Mayport, lasting from 26 May- 24 June.
On 25 June to 22 July 2000, John F. Kennedy took part in OpSail 2000 then steamed north to New York City, where she participated in Fleet Week 2000 from 2-8 July. After Fleet Week, the carrier sailed to Boston, where she enjoyed a six-day stay from 10-15 July. On 16 July, she began her trip back home, but stopped briefly in Norfolk on 18 July, and arrived at Mayport on 20 July, where she remained until 13 August for upkeep.
On 14 August 2000, John F. Kennedy began operations in the Jacksonville area that lasted, punctuated by in-port periods for upkeep, until 2 December. From 3-6 December, the carrier conducted sea trials, returning to Mayport on the latter date for upkeep before she got underway to return to the Jacksonville operating area. On 18 December, she returned to Mayport, where she remained for the rest of the year.
John F. Kennedy remained in upkeep status at Mayport until 5 February 2001. The next day, wearing Rear Admiral Lewis W. Crenshaw, Jr.’s flag as ComCarGru 6, and with CVW-7 embarked, she sailed for carquals and to begin technical evaluations of the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). Phase One was conducted in the Puerto Rican operating area, and ended with a port visit for all participating units: including the guided missile cruisers Anzio (CG-68), Hue City (CG-66), Cape St. George (CG-71), and Vicksburg (CG-69), the destroyers Carney (DDG-64) and The Sullivans (DDG-68), and the amphibious assault ship Wasp (LHD-1). Following port visits in the Dutch Antilles, the Bahamas, Miami, and Port Canaveral by individual ships in the battle group, phase II CEC training began in the Virginia capes operating area.
John F. Kennedy’s Battle Group contained five Aegis-equipped ships with CEC systems: Hue City and Vicksburg, the guided missile destroyers Carney, The Sullivans, and Roosevelt (DDG-80). CVW-7 would take the CEC system through extensive testing to aid the Navy in making its purchasing decision, providing realistic dynamic flight profiles and tactical scenarios. Now, armed with CEC components, John F. Kennedy and her air wing, and her consorts, could share sensor data and provide a single, integrated picture. The carrier could also see and respond, with fire-control accuracy, to air contacts further from the ship than was previously possible.
After visiting St. Martin (20-24 February 2001) John F. Kennedy sailed for the capes, and ultimately returned to Mayport on 5 March for upkeep that lasted until 12 March. The next day, the ship left to begin operating in the waters off Jacksonville. On 16 March, the ship returned to Mayport.
John F. Kennedy began her transit to Jacksonville operating area on 17 March 2001 for carquals. From 21 April to 2 May, the carrier conducted further CEC-related work. The ship lay in Mayport for upkeep from 3-4 May, and then conducted an operational evaluation from 5-13 May. The carrier returned to Mayport for more upkeep from 14-20 May.
John F. Kennedy returned to New York City from 21-31 May 2001 to participate in Fleet Week, where she once again served as ambassador to the people of New York and provided them with a greater understanding of carrier operations and the role of the aircraft carrier in global politics. The carrier returned to Mayport on 6 June for upkeep. On 7 June, the ship began three days of tailored ships training availability (TSTA), upon completion of which, the carrier returned to Mayport for upkeep that lasted until 9 July 2001.
John F. Kennedy conducted TSTA (phases I and II) from 10-25 July 2001 before returning to Mayport on 27 July for upkeep that extended until 22 August. During that time, on 30 July 2001, Rear Admiral Steven J. Tomaszeski (who had been the carrier’s exec at one point in his career) relieved Rear Admiral Crenshaw as ComCarGru 6/Commander John F. Kennedy Battle Group. On 23 August, the carrier began a week of TSTA, phase III. She returned to Mayport on 31 August for an extended upkeep period. From 6 to 8 August, John F. Kennedy Battle Group units participated in Solid Curtain, an Atlantic Fleet exercise that extended along the entire east coast, an evolution designed to test and improve the battle group’s ability to recognize and defend against terrorist attacks while in-port. Tragic events transpired soon thereafter that rendered such concerns justified.
On 11 September 2001, terrorists flew two Boeing 767 commercial airliners, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, into the World Trade Center towers in New York City. The twin structures eventually collapsed, one after the other, due to the infernal heat generated from burning aviation fuel. Terrorists also mercilessly hijacked two Boeing 757 airliners: American Flight 77 crashed the Pentagon. United Flight 93, however, did not reach its intended target, believed to have been either the White House or the Capital, when passengers, apprised of their perilous plight by personal cellular phones, apparently gained the upper hand over the hijackers and forced the 757 down near Somerset, Pennsylvania, bravely giving their lives to save countless others. All told, the terrorist attacks slew over 3,000 people.
As those events unfolded, John F. Kennedy and her battle group were slated to get underway for CompTUEx 01-2; ordered to support Operation Noble Eagle instead, set in motion in the wake of the brutal terrorist assault, the carrier and her consorts quickly established air security along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, including under its umbrella Washington, D.C., “to help calm a fearful and shocked nation.” Simultaneously, George Washington and her battle group operated in proximity of New York. “While John F. Kennedy Battle Group’s services were needed for only a brief time,” wrote one ComCarGru 6 observer later, “every member of the Battle Group was proud of their role in Operation Noble Eagle providing security along the eastern seaboard of the United States.”
Released from Noble Eagle on 14 September 2001, John F. Kennedy steamed for the Puerto Rican operating areas to conduct intermediate level CompTUEx along with ten other U.S. warships, including the guided missile cruisers Hue City and Vicksburg, the guided missile destroyers Carney, The Sullivans, and Roosevelt, the destroyer Spruance, the guided missile frigates Underwood and Taylor, the fast combat support ship Seattle, and the attack submarines Toledo (SSN-769) and Boise (SSN-764). The exercise included naval surface fire support, ship-to-ship gunnery training, traditional surface warfare and underwater training, and air-to-ground bombing using inert ordnance. John F. Kennedy and her air wing, CVW-7, qualified for blue water or open-ocean certification and the battle group became the first to employ the Navy’s new Cooperative Engagement Capability during CompTUEx, completing the exercise on 13 October. On 16 October, the group participated in a SinkEx that involved ex-Guam (LPH-9) off the Cherry Point Operating Area, the coup de grace being administered by ballistic missile submarine Maryland (SSBN-738), which was operating under the tactical command of Commander, John F. Kennedy Battle Group, for the exercise.
John F. Kennedy returned to Mayport on 20 October, for upkeep that lasted until 26 November 2001. On 27 November, John F. Kennedy steamed to the waters off Jacksonville for three days of independent ship exercises. From 1-2 December, the ship underwent upkeep in Mayport, then spent three days undergoing inspection and survey; soon thereafter, on 13 December 2001, Captain Maurice S. Joyce was relieved of command by Commander James Gregorski, the executive officer, contemporary media reports citing the ship’s having failed “a critical ship inspection.” Captain Johnny L. “Turk” Greene became the carrier’s new commanding officer soon thereafter, faced with the formidable task of correcting the discrepancies revealed in the preceding inspection and survey period.
John F. Kennedy began operations in 2002 when she conducted Joint Task Force Exercise 02-01, Phase 1, from 19-25 January, followed by sea trials on 26-27 January. The ship returned to Mayport on 28 January for three days of upkeep. John F. Kennedy began two days of sea trials on 3 February. That day, while conducting trials of her engineering plant and other operational equipment, John F. Kennedy lost steering control during an underway replenishment with the oiler Leroy Grumman (T-AO-195). She implemented an emergency breakaway procedure and regained steering, allowing the ships to maintain a safe distance. Neither ship reported any damaged equipment, but eight sailors in John F. Kennedy sustained minor injuries.
John F. Kennedy, wearing Rear Admiral Tomaszeski’s flag as ComCarGru 6, and with CVW-7 embarked, deployed to the Persian Gulf, on 7 February 2002, two months ahead of schedule, in a battle group that included guided missile cruisers Vicksburg and Hue City, guided missile destroyer Roosevelt, destroyer Spruance, and guided missile frigates Underwood and Taylor. From 7 to 15 February, John F. Kennedy and her consorts completed phase II of Joint Task Force Exercise 02-01, in the midst of which, on 12 February 2002, Captain Ronald H. Henderson, Jr., relieved Captain Greene, who had presided over the ship’s successful preparations for her deployment, as commanding officer. On 16 February, John F. Kennedy and her battle group began their “Trans-Atlantic Journey.”
John F. Kennedy chopped into the 6th Fleet on 21 February 2002 to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. On 23 February, she transited the Strait of Gibraltar, Rear Admiral Tomaszeski becoming Commander TG 60.3, and after pausing briefly at Souda Bay, pointed her bow toward the North Arabian Sea Operating Area on 1 March.
While John F. Kennedy was conducting flight-training operations on 2 March 2002, approximately 50 nautical miles south of Crete, Lieutenant Commander Christopher M. Blaschum of VF-143 encountered nose gear problems during launch. Both he and Lieutenant (j.g.) Rafe Wysham, his RIO, exited the aircraft. “[Two] Souls in water,” noted the ship’s log soon thereafter; SH-60 Sea Hawks from HS-5 and rigid inflatable boats from The Sullivans, the latter employed when the carrier’s whaleboat went dead in the water as the rescue efforts unfolded, retrieved Wysham, but Lieutenant Commander Blaschum, married and the father of two boys, died of injuries suffered in the ejection.
John F. Kennedy transited the Suez Canal on 4 March 2002, one day after the commencement of Operation Anaconda, unleashed by U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan to trap al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters known to be holed-up in the Shah-e-Kot Valley, south of Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan. On 6 March, her battle group relieved Theodore Roosevelt’s in the northern Arabian Sea, joining forces with John C. Stennis and her consorts, and the next day, transited the Strait of Bab El Mandeb.
Captain Henderson, on the eve of the ship’s launching her first strikes in support of Enduring Freedom, addressed his crew on 10 March 2002: “We are currently proceeding, at best speed, to our launch strike for tonight’s strikes, off the coast of Pakistan, nearly 700 miles south of our targets in Afghanistan. At midnight, CVW-7 will launch into the dark night and strike their first blows of Operation Enduring Freedom, the war on terrorism. For us this is a culminating point in space, a culminating point in time, and a culminating point in history.”
“Our enemy is a group of religious fanatics,” he continued, “who pervert the peace of Islam and twist its meaning to justify the murder of thousands of innocents at the Twin Towers of New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania. They hate us and attack us because they oppose all that is good about America. They hate us because we are prosperous. They hate us because we are tolerant. They hate us because we are happy. Mostly, they hate us because we are free,” he continued, and harkened to the words of the man for whom the ship was named, “and because we will ‘pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.’ Make no mistake,” Henderson concluded gravely, “this is a fight for Western Civilization. If these monsters are not destroyed they will destroy us, and our children and children’s children will live in fear forever…”
“America is the only nation that can stop them and destroy them,” he went on, referring to the strength of the country and its resources “to hunt these fanatics down anywhere in the world.” After noting America’s leadership role in the global community, Henderson declared that “Our Naval power has been the principal weapon of our resolve,” and mentioned “great ships and great crews” that had gone before them. “It is now our turn,” he said, “to strike for justice and we will strike hard.”
”Millions of Americans wish they could be with us here tonight,” he continued, “They saw the Twin Towers fall, and watched helplessly, wanting to do something to defend America and our way of life. For us tonight, that wait and that helplessness are over. We have reached the point where we are all part of something so much greater than ourselves. For the rest of our lives, no matter whether we stay in the Navy or move on to civilian life, no matter what we do or where we go, we will remember that on 10 March 2002, we came together and struck a blow for freedom.”
After noting the “volunteer” nature of the service, the captain noted the opportunity given them, the “chance to truly make a difference in the world,” and the diversity of the country they served: “We represent America in all its power and diversity. We are men and women, rich and poor, black and white, and all colors of the human rainbow. We are Christian, Jew, and yes, Muslim. WE ARE AMERICA.”
“This war will not be short, pleasant or easy. It has already required the sacrifice of our firefighters, our policemen, our soldiers, our Sailors, our airmen, and our Marines. More sacrifices will be made. In the end we will win, precisely because we are those things that the terrorists hate: prosperous, happy, tolerant, and most of all, free.”
Paying tribute to the nation’s unity of purpose, their families’ backing them, Henderson promised: “We will not let them down. We are, and will be, men and women of honor, courage, and commitment.” After quoting Abraham Lincoln’s declaration that “America is the last, best hope for the world,” he declared,” Tonight we hold a shining beacon of that hope. We shall keep it burning brightly.”
”Stay sharp,” he urged his crew. “Stay focused. Stay safe. Use the training that has made you the best Sailors in the world, the best Sailors in the history of the world. Trust in your faith, and in your shipmates. God bless us all, and God bless America.”
Soon thereafter, John F. Kennedy began launching her first strikes in support of operations Anaconda and Enduring Freedom. During a night mission over Afghanistan on 12 March, Commander John C. Aquilino, VF-11’s commanding officer, and Lieutenant Commander Kevin Protzman made the first combat strike of the Mk. 84 2,000-pound JDAM (a guided air-to-surface weapon utilizing a tail control system and the Global Positioning System for guidance) from their F-14B Tomcat.
While underway, John F. Kennedy’s combat system’s CS-4 division replaced one of the motors on the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) antenna. With the equipment restored, the crew enjoyed better access to telephones, e-mail and the Internet. DSCS provided 40% of the bandwidth for shipboard communications and after CS-4’s work, there was less e-mail backlog and the Internet rendered more accessible.
John F. Kennedy welcomed Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his partner Bertram van Munster, in April 2002 to begin 30 days of filming on board the carrier. Their project, Profiles from the Front Line, had access to John F. Kennedy, other ships operating with her, and military forces on the ground in Afghanistan. The guided missile cruisers Lake Champlain (CG-57) and Hue City also hosted film crews.
John F. Kennedy assumed sole responsibility for carrier operations supporting Enduring Freedom on 17 April 2002 when Rear Admiral Tomaszeski became CTF-50, marking the transition from multi-carrier battle group operations to single.
After a port visit to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates (14-17 May 2002), John F. Kennedy returned to active operations. On 5 June 2002, however, F-14 Tomcats Navy-wide were grounded due to complications with the nose landing gear, an order that bore directly upon John F. Kennedy’s Enduring Freedom requirements. While VF-11 and VF-143 began repairs of its F-14s in earnest, VFA-131 and VFA-136, both equipped with newer F/A-18 Hornets, flew additional sorties to maintain the carrier’s air requirement for Enduring Freedom. John F. Kennedy’s air department, meanwhile, in a job estimated to take up to two weeks to accomplish, tackled the task and completed inspections and repairs on all the F-14s in just five days. On 14 June, the Tomcats were back in the fight.
Two days later, on 16 June 2002, off the coast of Oman, elements of John F. Kennedy’s Battle Group transitioned from warriors to good Samaritans. Guided missile cruiser Vicksburg, guided to the scene by an S-3B from VS-31 sent off from the carrier, launched an SH-60B from HSL-42, Detachment 7, to assist Stolt Spray, a tanker in the vicinity that had stood by to assist the foundering motor vessel al Murthada. When monsoon conditions rendered it impossible for Stolt Spray to provide waterborne assistance, Vicksburg’s helo transferred al Murthada’s distressed mariners, who had been adrift for eight days, bereft of power, potable water, and food, to the tanker, for further transportation.
The George Washington (CVN-73) Battle Group relieved John F. Kennedy and her consorts of their Enduring Freedom responsibilities on 19 July 2002. All told, John F. Kennedy had spent 129 days in theatre, conducting 97 Enduring Freedom fly days. CVW-7 averaged 76 sorties per day from 11 March through 17 July. A press release from the John F. Kennedy reported that CVW-7 dropped over 64,000 pounds of ordnance on Taliban and al Qaeda targets and supported U.S. and Coalition forces on the ground with close air support, on occasion working with Special Forces units.
The crews of both ships transferred ordnance and CVW-7 aircrews debriefed their George Washington counterparts from CVW-17 on procedures for conducting Enduring Freedom missions. The two carriers also completed turnover, which actually began several weeks earlier via the Internet. John F. Kennedy had been the only U.S. carrier supporting Enduring Freedom from April until her relief.
Returning home, John F. Kennedy transited the Strait of Bab El Mandeb on 20 July and the Suez Canal on 24 July. She anchored in Marmaris, Turkey, for a four-day port visit on 26 July and began a port visit to Tarragona, Spain, on 3 August. On 8 August, the carrier transited the Strait of Gibraltar, and returned to Mayport on 17 August 2002.
Five days later, John F. Kennedy began the first of three carqual stints before she underwent extended selective restricted availability (ESRA) that concluded on 4 October 2002. The second qualifications period began on 28 October and ended on 5 November. The third and final carquals period began on 3 December and lasted for ten days. While engaged in the last qualifications period, the crew began the ESRA a month ahead of the 6 January 2003 scheduled launch date.
After sitting in Mayport for almost a year and undergoing the $300 million extended selected restricted availability, John F. Kennedy was finally underway again on 11 November 2003. During this underway period, she conducted five days of sea trials with a green crew, nearly half of them had never been underway in the ship.
Captain Henderson turned over command to Captain Stephen G. Squires on 8 April 2004. A little less than two months later, on 2 June 2004, the Navy announced the simultaneous deployment of seven carrier strike groups (CSGs) to demonstrate the Navy’s ability to provide credible combat power across the globe by operating in five theaters with other U.S., allied and coalition military forces. Dubbed Summer Pulse ’04, this exercise was the first of the Navy’s new Fleet Response Plan (FRP) slated to result in increased force readiness and the ability to provide combat power in response to a crisis. Along with John F. Kennedy, the other carriers involved were George Washington, John C. Stennis, Kitty Hawk (CV-63), Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), Enterprise (CVN-65), and Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).
John F. Kennedy, operating as part of Summer Pulse ’04, completed Combined Joint Task Force Exercise (CJTFEX) 04-2, or Operation Blinding Storm, in June. The exercise marked the first Joint National Training Capability (JNTC) integration event, during which training focused on functional coalition component commands. All elements of the U.S. services were involved, as was the British carrier HMS Invincible. The carrier, with CVW-17 (VF-103, VFA-34, VFA-81 and VFA-83, VAQ-132, VS-30, VAW-125 and HS-15) embarked, got underway, accompanied by Vicksburg, Spruance, Roosevelt, Toledo, and Seattle and steamed east in support of the Global War on Terror.
After a port visit to Malta (26-30 June 2004), John F. Kennedy transited the Suez Canal (2-3 July) and on 10 July, launched her first aircraft in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, providing critical overhead support for Multi-National Corps-Iraq and Iraqi forces. On 20 July, CVW-17, John F. Kennedy’s air wing, destroyed two anti-Iraqi positions. This was the strike group’s first active engagement of anti-Iraqi targets in support of Multinational Corps-Iraq and Iraqi forces. An F-14 Tomcat dropped GBU-12 and an F/A-18C Hornet GBU-32 guided bombs on the enemy positions.
On 22 July 2004, while conducting night flight operations in international waters during the first watch, John F. Kennedy collided with, and sank, a dhow. The carrier and HMS Somerset immediately launched helicopters and small boats to search for survivors. U.S. Navy P-3 Orions assisted in the unsuccessful search and rescue operations.
John F. Kennedy’s second encounter with one of the ubiquitous wood and sail craft that ply the waters of the region, however, ended more happily. On 14 August 2004, guided missile cruiser Mobile Bay (CG-53) received a distress signal from the Iranian cargo dhow Naji, in the North Arabian Gulf, six souls on board, and relayed it to John F. Kennedy, which dispatched two of HS-15’s Seahawks to the scene. Meanwhile, a P-3C Orion from VP-9 monitored the craft and coordinated the rescue efforts.
“We thought we were dead,” Mortada G. Asfendeary told his rescuers through Aviation Structural Mechanic Airman Moataz Ghonem of HS-15, who translated his remarks, “We made smoke so people would see us. Three boats passed us before the helicopter came to get us.” “Thank you,” said Naser Afendeary, another member of Naji’s crew, “Thank you, America.” As Captain Squires summed it up: “It was about Sailors helping Sailors.” After spending eight hours on board the carrier receiving medical attention, showers, and a hot meal (“They drank lots of tea,” recounted Captain Thomas E. Hatley, MC, the carrier’s senior medical officer), the six Iranian mariners, bearing toiletries, JFK T-shirts, boots, coveralls, and tea for the trip back home, were transferred to Vicksburg for repatriation to an Iranian civil authorities boat.
On 5 October 2004, Captain Dennis E. Fitzpatrick relieved Captain Squires in command, and four days later, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, accompanied by the defense ministers of 18 countries assisting the United States in the Global War on Terror, flew out from Bahrain to visit the ship. A former naval aviator, Rumsfeld noted that the first time he ever trod the decks of a U.S. naval vessel was when his father, hangar deck officer in the escort carrier Hollandia (CVE-97), took him to visit his ship. “It is indeed a personal privilege,” Rumsfeld told the crew, “for this son of a Navy man and an old broken down naval aviator himself, to be with you here on this great day.”
“I cannot think of a better place,” Rumsfeld declared, “for my fellow ministers of defense to witness America’s finest demonstration of what great patriots they are…” Rumsfeld also re-enlisted 80 Sailors, and presented 17 with their warfare designations, thanking those who had re-enlisted “for your dedication to stay in the service of our nation, to keep our military forces strong with your experience and your professionalism. I certainly want to say you make us all proud.”
The war in Iraq, meanwhile, continued, often with unbridled ferocity. Operation Phantom Fury, later redesignated al Fajr, Arabic for “dawn,” began on 7–8 November 2004, to wrest control of al Fallujah, approximately 30 miles west of Baghdad, from several thousand insurgents and terrorists, in preparation for the Iraqi national elections slated for on 30 January 2005. Well dug into strongholds, command posts and bunker complexes, lavishly equipped and stiffened by religious zealots, jihadis (Muslim volunteers, many from madrassas, religious schools, whipped into a frenzy by their mullahs and by drugs), the enemy determined to resist to the last with fanaticism rivaling that displayed by foes encountered in the Pacific in World War II and in Vietnam.
Marines from the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), supported by the Army’s 1st Hell for Leather Cavalry Division and Iraqi security forces, found themselves quickly embroiled in some of the fiercest house-to-house fighting since 1968 at Hué, in the Vietnam War. While flying preliminary missions on 6 November, aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, pounded seven separate Iraqi weapons caches in just eight hours. Weather played a key role in the battle, the low ceiling forcing fixed-wing aircraft to fly lower than normal standards and for more involvement by helos, the enemy taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by firing SAMs, anti-aircraft artillery, small arms, and even rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at aircraft. More ominously, the terrorists repeatedly violated international laws, fighting from 26 mosques, including the Khulafah Al Rashid, one of Fallujah’s most revered centers of Islamic worship, and from three hospitals, including the Ar Ramadi General Hospital and Medical College. Marines also discovered terrorist “slaughterhouses” where hostages had been tortured and murdered, showing the merciless nature of the adversaries faced in Iraq.
In Fallujah’s crowded streets, avoiding collateral damage to civilians rendered crucial the employment of precision-guided munitions. Al Fajr marked the combat debut of GBU-38 500-pound JDAMs, guidance kits converting unguided bombs into precision-guided “smart” munitions, utilizing global positioning system (GPS) navigation, when F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-34, flying from John F. Kennedy, dropped two against insurgents in Fallujah. Dealing a serious blow to the terrorists and insurgents, the liberation of the city proved instrumental in paving the way for the successful elections. CVW-17 aircraft flew an average of 38 missions a day in support of Marines and soldiers on the ground. “Our success at Fallujah as an air wing,” Captain Mark Guadagnini, the air wing commander, later declared, “is a testament to the Sailors that work on the ships and on the flight deck. We couldn’t afford to fail. The international community and the Iraqi nation were depending upon us.”
Ultimately, following a vertical ammunition replenishment and turnover ceremonies, the Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) Battle Group relieved John F. Kennedy's on 20 November 2004 in the Arabian Gulf. The veteran carrier and her air wing transited the Suez Canal, homeward-bound, on 26 November, and visited Tarragona, Spain, as the last port call of the deployment (29 November-4 December). Transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on 5 December, John F. Kennedy flew off CVW-17 on 12 December, then returned to Mayport the following day (13 December 2004). A little over a fortnight later, however, on 30 December, the Navy announced the intention to decommission the ship.
Word of her pending inactivation notwithstanding, John F. Kennedy spent the first quarter of 2005 "focused on maintaining 'Surge deployment' readiness under the Fleet Response Plan." The ship logged 818 arrested landings by the end of January 2005, and the following month participated in a pierside Multi-Battle Group Inport Exercise (MBGIE) that involved ships and staffs out of Norfolk, Mayport, as well as the United Kingdom (7-11 February). During the Surge Sustainment underway period (15-24 February), John F. Kennedy conducted carrier qualifications for CVW-17 pilots, logging 392 day and 262 night traps. Upon conclusion of that training period, the ship hosted 4,000 "friends and family" guests (25 February).
John F. Kennedy completed her Surge sustainment on 11 March, beginning an ammunition offload of conventional ordnance with Theodore Roosevelt and the Military Sealift Command ammunition ship USNS Mount Baker (T-AE-34) on that date. Released from her Surge readiness requirements on 12 March, the ship received word over a fortnight later of the cancellation of her scheduled 15-month complex overhaul at Norfolk on 1 April. Her crew decreased from 2,870 to 2,215 for the remainder of 2005, the manning deemed necessary to carry out carrier qualifications and, if the occasion demanded, hurricane evacuation. Despite the down-sizing of her crew, John F. Kennedy's people carried out the "concentrated, continuous maintenance periods" that punctuated her underway operations, performing more than 90% of the work usually handled by contractors. Later that spring, the signing of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act on 11 May 2005 ended speculation about an imminent decommissioning, requiring the Navy to maintain 12 operational carriers until six months after the publishing of the Quadrennial Defense Review projected for February of the following year.
Underway from Mayport on 16 May 2005, John F. Kennedy, with CVW-17 and 500 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), recently returned from a combat deployment in Iraq, embarked, visited Boston, hosting 65,000 visitors (19-23 May). She then visited New York City during Fleet Week 2005 (25 May-1 June), playing host to an additional 10,000 visitors daily during that period. Disembarking Commander Carrier Strike Group 8 and his staff on 30 May, John F. Kennedy sailed for Norfolk on 1 June. Disembarking the 24th MEU at Norfolk the following day. Underway for Mayport on 7 June, the ship reached her home port on 8 June.
John F. Kennedy conducted Training Command (TraCom) carrier qualifications at the end of July (26-31 July 2005), then returned to Mayport on 1 August. A little over a month later, on 8 September, the ship got underway for Norfolk as Hurricane Ophelia threatened northern Florida, proceeding to sea as Commander Task Group 183.2 (Hurricane Sortie Commander); during the evolution, the carrier's engineering force lit-off the boilers and permitted the ship to get underway within ten hours of the order. After remaining in-port at Norfolk (10-16 September) as Ophelia "slowly and erratically moved up the east coast," John F. Kennedy conducted TraCom carrier qualifications en route back to Mayport (1,189 day and 230 night traps), ultimately returning to her home port on 28 September. She conducted more TraCom carquals the following month (25-29 October), then participated in a Multi-ship Inport Training Exercise (14-18 November), and then carried out one more stint of TraCom qualifications between 9 and 14 December, logging her 20,000th arrested landing since her 2003 ESRA the first day out.
For John F. Kennedy, the year 2006 began with uncertainty concerning her yet-to-be-determined decommissioning. To maintain proficiency, the ship conducted periodic independent steaming operations, the first (25-27 January 2006) that saw her conduct helicopter operations. The periods at sea enabled her to maintain the required know-how to sortie in the event of hurricanes, and provide at-sea experience for the newer sailors in her complement.
On 13 February 2006, NavSea decertified the ship’s arresting gear, thus concluding John F. Kennedy’s fixed wing operations, with the gear itself being laid up a week later, on the 20th. Later that month, also on 20 February, inspection and survey (InSurv) examiners began a material condition assessment on board, concluding their work in two days’ time. The ship’s chronicler noted that the crew had “spent two weeks in preparation for this assessment. Their hard work and pride in this vessel were on display for the Navy to see,” impressing the inspectors with the ship’s overall condition and the “level of effort that JFK sailors put forth in preparation” for the visit.
As the year progressed, John F. Kennedy’s No.4 catapult was laid up on 2 March 2006, and before the month of March was out, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the CNO, visited the ship on 29 March, as did Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry D. Scott, escorted by Rear Admiral H. Denby Starling, II, Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic. Soon thereafter, John F. Kennedy carried out her second independent steaming exercise of the year (3-6 April), during which she replenished at sea from USNS Kanawha (T-AO-196) (5 April) and carried out helicopter operations. She replicated that evolution the following month (2-5 May), again replenishing from Kanawha (4 May). As the month of May neared its end, Capt. Todd A. Zechin relieved Capt. Dennis E. Kirkpatrick on the 26th.
The ship’s bow catapults were laid up on 29 June 2006, and in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s independent steaming exercise for the summer (18-20 July), Rear Admiral Starling visited the carrier (20 July) for updates from the commanding officer and executive officer, heads of departments, and the command master chief. That autumn, John F. Kennedy, her flight deck re-certified for helicopter operations, conducted her last independent steaming exercise for 2006 (17-20 October). Before the year ended, in December the ship received the official public affairs notification that she would be decommissioned “no later than the end of FY07 [30 September 2007].” Following a brief underway period (1-2 February 2007) to prepare for her final slated port visits to Norfolk and Boston, John F. Kennedy and her crew “[shook] down the newly inspected boilers and [performed] flawlessly during helicopter flight operations, as well as two successful sea and anchor details.”
John F. Kennedy stood out of Mayport on 20 February 2007, embarking members of Boston’s Navy League and media representatives for the occasion. The ship reached Norfolk on 22 February where she off-loaded “as much gear as possible,” that included her mobile crash crane that had been affectionately nicknamed “Tilly,” and “various other assets needed [elsewhere] for the Fleet.” Moored alongside Pier 14-A at Naval Station, Norfolk, “alongside three of our nation’s finest CVNs,” her historian wrote proudly that John F. Kennedy “never looked or operated better, and received accolades from Admirals and Seamen alike…”
Underway again on 26 February 2007, John F. Kennedy set course for Boston, where she arrived to be welcomed “with open arms.” Well over 60,000 people visited during that time, including members of the Kennedy family, who hosted a dinner on board ship on 2 March. Among the distinguished visitors were Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Congressman Michael Capuano, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Admiral Michael Mullen, Vice Admiral Michael Chanik (Commander Second Fleet), Rear Admiral Starling, and Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s sponsor.
Her departure from Boston delayed two days by high winds, John F. Kennedy sailed on 7 March 2007, and reached Mayport on 10 March, the last boiler extinguished being 2-A that afternoon, as the ship tied up alongside Pier Charlie-One, finding the crew barges APL-42 and APL-66 awaiting her pierside upon her arrival. She began a pre-decommissioning availability and a final safety stand down on the 15th.
Ultimately, on 23 March 2007, John F. Kennedy was decommissioned, her chronicler wrote, “with dignity and honor,” and Capt. Zechin relinquished command. Capt. Ronald B. Robinson, the ship's last executive officer, assumed duties as officer-in-charge, John F. Kennedy (CV-67) Detachment. Those members of the crew who remained, toiled on the inactivation of the ship, “staying ahead of schedule in space cleaning and close out, tank cleaning and closing, sea-valve blanking, equipment removal and lay-up,” preparing the ship for inactivation. On 26 July, John F. Kennedy set sail on her last voyage at the end of a tow line, setting course for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which she reached on 1 August.
John F. Kennedy was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 16 October 2009. She is laid up at Philadelphia pending final disposition.
Robert J. Cressman
26 February 2018