Constellation Strike Group WESTPAC 03 Deployment
CVA / CV 64 Constellation
"Connie"/ "America's Flag Ship"
The Constellation began preparing for its FY'03 WESTPAC shortly after returning to San Diego in September 2001. In the early summer of 2002 the Connie began the training phase of her IDTC beginning with TSTAs and the Final Evaluation Problem. In July she completed her Composite Training Unit Exercise. From July until early September the Constellation remained in port making final preperations for JTFEX. Final pre-deployment family meetings took place in late August and the Constellation and her battle group deployed to the Eastern Pacific around Sept. 9, 2002.
The Constellation Battle Group departed for JTFEX on 17 October 2002 between 12 and 1 PM EDT. The Constellation was accompanied not only by her Battle Group but also departed with Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell (WHEC 719) which is due to join the Tarawa ARG when it deploys later in 2002. The Constellation completed JTFEX 03-1 a day earlier than planned on 29 Oct 2002, and upon completion returned to San Diego for a brief period before deploying for WESTPAC on November 02.
On or about November 9, 2002 a fire broke out in 4 Main Machine Room. The fire was put out relatively quickly and there were no injuries. It was believed that this might delay the Constellations time of arrival in the Gulf as she might need to divert to Pearl Harbor but on Nov 11 the Navy stated that the Constellation could continue without stopping for repairs.
The Constellation Battle Group made a port of call in Hong Kong on November 22 and departed on the 27th.
An Associated Press story, dated November 22, reports that the USS Rainier, currently attached to the Constellation Battle Group will remain in Hong Kong following the departure of the Connie, and will depart with the Kitty Hawk on December 3. As of December 2, it is not clear if this report is accurate.
On December 1, despite statements from Commanding Officer of the Constellation Battle Group to the press that the Connie would not make any additional Port Calls until she reached the Persian Gulf, the Constellation and her Battle Group pulled into Singapore for a Port Call. As of December 2 she was still there.
On 19 January 2003, Constellation added another accomplishment to the list by recording its 390,000th trap. Lt. Frank Wittwer, flying Falcon 407, an F/A-18C Hornet from Strike/Fighter Squadron (VFA) 137, caught the number two wire, at 8:53 p.m., marking the milestone trap for the ship. On 5 March, crew members joined thousands of Americans across the United States in the simultaneous playing of the National Anthem. The Star Spangled Banner echoed throughout Constellation, approximately 1,060 feet from bow to stern, at precisely 7 p.m. local time. Additionally, several Sailors participated in interviews with hometown media. Minutes before the National Anthem was played, Commanding Officer Capt. John Miller provided comments to Constellation's crew about the meaning and significance of the project. "The National Anthem project is a wonderful example of the support we are receiving from the folks back home. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this landmark demonstration of pride and patriotism," he remarked.
Operation Iraqi Freedom, the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and end the regime of Saddam Hussein, began on 20 March 2003 with the firing of Tomahawk missiles from U.S. ships in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea. On 25 March, aircraft from two squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 2 aboard Constellation successfully destroyed three significant Iraqi naval targets. The aircraft involved received short-order tasking for a time-sensitive strike to engage several naval targets in the vicinity of Basra.
Two F/A-18C Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, "The Vigilantes," one of three F/A-18 squadrons aboard, participated in the strikes with one aircraft from Sea Control Squadron (VS) 38, "The Red Griffins," the S-3B Viking squadron, aboard Constellation. One Hornet independently identified and destroyed two naval targets. The S-3B, working in conjunction with the second F/A-18C, as the laser designator, destroyed its target by firing a laser guided missile, the AGM-65E Maverick. The F/A-18 provides laser illumination throughout target engagements. This event was the first time the Navy's S-3 has received tasking for overland strikes in its 30 year history. In addition, it is also the first time the S-3 has fired a laser-guided missile in combat.
On 1 April, an S-3B Viking from Sea Control Squadron 38 of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 aboard Constellation veered off the flight deck after making an arrested landing at approximately 5:10 a.m. local time. Shortly after touching down on deck, the S-3B malfunctioned while taxiing on the carrier's flight deck and slid to the port side of the deck. The plane went over the side and hit flight deck safety netting, with the two pilots aboard ejecting into the water. The plane then followed into the water.
A helicopter from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 2 was performing search-and-rescue (SAR) operations for the flight cycle and arrived on scene immediately. Both pilots were recovered by a SAR swimmer and transported to Constellation, where they were evaluated for minor injuries. After completing SAR operations and recovering the pilots, scheduled flight operations aboard Constellation continued.
Constellation departed the Arabian Gulf on 16 April 2003 and began her journey back to her homeport of San Diego.
Constellation and other ships in its strike group first stopped in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, May 22, before getting underway for San Diego May 27. The ships joining the carrier in Hawaii are USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), USS Valley Forge (CG 50), USS Milius (DDG 69), USS Thach (FFG 43) and USS Rainier (AOE 7).
Carrier Air Wing 2 will fly off Constellation May 31 and June 1. Constellation will then pull into Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., June 2 to offload the rest of the air wing and the ship's crew.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Constellation CSG flew more than 1,500 sorties (missions) and expended more than 1 million pounds of ordnance, including 408 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Throughout the deployment, the ships of the CSG also provided significant contributions to the war against terrorism. They escorted merchant and military ships through strategic waterways and conducted maritime interdiction operations, intercepting ships suspected of transporting illegal cargo.
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