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Constellation Carrier Strike Group Returns Home From Operation Iraqi Freedom

Navy Newsstand

Story Number: NNS030529-07

Release Date: 5/29/2003 9:59:00 AM

From U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The USS Constellation (CV 64) Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is scheduled to return to San Diego June 2, following a successful seven-month deployment in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch.

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. Bunker Hill was one of the first warships to conduct Tomahawk strikes against leadership targets in Iraq. Its embarked LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System) helicopter detachment, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 45 "the Wolfpack," supported the rescue of United Nations workers being forcibly removed from oil platforms in the Northern Arabian Gulf and provided medical evacuations from Umm Qasr.

"Your accelerated deployment to the Arabian Gulf in support of this operation served as an important diplomatic tool for our nation, as we increased pressure on the Iraqi regime," Army Gen. Tommy Franks, U.S. Central Command commander, said in a message to the Constellation CSG. "I have no doubt your efforts directly hastened the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people."

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.

Valley Forge was designated as the flagship for the commander of Maritime Interception Operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf. It also served as the logistics command for many of the coalition ships in the Arabian Gulf, and in the days prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Valley Forge played a crucial role as the command and control platform for Special Forces Units (U.S. Navy SEALs and USMC Fast Platoons) for the seizing of two Iraqi offshore oil platforms. Throughout OIF combat operations, Valley Forge was the closest U.S. cruiser or destroyer to Iraq.

The Aegis-destroyer Milius took station in the Arabian Gulf as the flagship for Commander, Maritime Interception Forces. The crew conducted more than 300 boat launches and recoveries, and accumulated more than 200 helicopter landings in one month. Soon after arriving on station in the Gulf in mid-December 2002, Milius rescued nine Iranian fishermen whose vessel had capsized.

Thach played a key role in anti-submarine defense for all three CSGs operating in the Arabian Gulf.

Rainier, the Constellation CSG's resupply and refueling ship, also played an integral role. Rainier, homeported in Bremerton, Wash., is a fast combat support ship, which conducted more than 240 Underway Replenishment (UNREP) operations, besting the ship's earlier UNREP record of 178, and enabling ships to remain on station longer without having to pull into port for supplies. While Rainier usually provides for about 24 ships during a six-month deployment, during OIF, Rainier provided for 64 ships, completing up to six UNREP evolutions per day. Rainier received and issued more than 135 million gallons of fuel and 25,000 pallets (15,000 tons) of material that included mail, dry goods, food and 10 million pounds of ordnance to the CSG and coalition forces. The embarked helicopter detachment from Helicopter Support Squadron (HC) 11 contributed to move 9,000 tons of material via Vertical Replenishment.

Constellation left San Diego Nov. 2. It is one of only three conventional (non-nuclear powered) carriers remaining in the U.S. Navy and is affectionately known as "America's Flagship." Displacing 88,000 tons, Constellation is home to 5,000 Sailors and Marines, as well as 72 combat and support aircraft. From its 4.5-acre flight deck, Constellation can quickly launch and recover the world's most modern military aircraft that operate with other elements of the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as those of allied nations.



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