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Constellation Strike Group WESTPAC 97 Deployment
CVA / CV 64 Constellation
"Connie" / "America's Flag Ship"

In February 1997, Constellation was selected by the Navy as one of the test ships for a new working uniform. The test lasted six months. Also, from 10 through 21 February 1997, Constellation, along with her Carrier Battle Group and the USS Boxer (LHD 4) Amphibious Ready Group with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked, took part in Pacific Joint Task Force Exercise (PAC JTFEX) 97-1 off the southern California coast. More than 15,000 military personnel tested their ability to project combat power ashore during the 3rd Fleet exercise. The exercise included various air strike and support missions, maritime interdiction operations, humanitarian operations, operational testing of weapons systems, logistics support, search and rescue and command and control. The amphibious operations supporting the exercise culminated with an amphibious landing at Camp Pendleton, Calif., involving surface and helicopter assault forces.

On 19 April 1997, while Constellation and her nine-ship battle group were on a routine six-months deployment, she was conducting a vertical replenishment with the replenishment ship USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3) when one of the replenishment ship's UH-46E Sea Knight helicopters crashed into the sea. The crash occurred approximately 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii and all four crew members were safely rescued. The helicopter crew members from Helicopter Support Squadron Five, homeported in Guam, were rescued by the quick reaction of other CH-46 helicopters on-scene at the time of the incident. Assisting in the rescue was a motor-whale boat from Niagara Falls, also homeported in Guam. The four crew members, who escaped injury, were transported to Constellation for medical observation and were released to the Niagara Falls the same day.

The Constellation Battle Group entered the Arabian Sea 16 May 1997 and conducted high tempo operations that included more than 4,400 sorties during more than 10 weeks in the Arabian Gulf. Operations included exercises with friendly forces in the region. Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, embarked in Constellation, participated in Operation Southern Watch flying 1,460 sorties enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

On 14 July 1997, Constellation rescued two Iranian merchant seamen found adrift in international waters of the Arabian Gulf. Lookouts aboard the carrier spotted the two men clinging to floating debris about 70 nautical miles northeast of Bahrain. Constellation crewmen immediately launched a rescue boat to retrieve the stranded seamen from the water. Once on board, the two stated they had been adrift for approximately five days, after their Iranian cargo dhow, Ramazan, with eight other crewmen aboard, broke up in rough seas. The two Iranian merchant seamen were later transfer ashore. An unsuccesful search for any other survivors continued using helicopters from Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light (HSL) 37, Detachment 9, embarked aboard USS Lake Erie (CG 70); and Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light(HSL) 42, Detachment 5, embarked aboard USS Thorn (DD 988).

Constellation and her battle group departed 5th Fleet's Area of Responsibility on 17 August 1997 and began her journey back towards San Diego. The Battle Group included USS Merrill (DD 976), USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), USS Chosin (CG 65), USS Lake Erie (CG 70), USS Cimarron (AO 177)and USS Mount Hood (AE 290).

Beginning 28 August 1997, Constellation participated in Fleet Battle Experiment Bravo (FBE-B) with deployed naval forces in the eastern and western Pacific to test warfighting concepts and capabilities for the 21st century. The experiment had two main parts. The first experiment ran from 4 through 7 September, and involved the Ring of Fire concept, a naval fire support "Battle LAN" that was tested during Third Fleet's Battle Experiment Alfa (FBE-A) in March 1997. The second part of the experiment, called Silent Fury, began 2 September and lasted until the 23rd. During this phase, Third Fleet, in conjunction with Naval Strike Air Warfare Center at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., examined the targeting process and the challenges inherent in the employment of new types of guided munitions soon to be in the Navy's weapons inventory. Other units participating were the USS Peleliu (LHA 5) Amphibious Ready Group with 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, USS Russell (DDG 59), and USS Nimitz (CVN 68).



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