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Pearl Harbor-based Cruiser Returns Home

Navy Newsstand

Story Number: NNS040310-05

Release Date: 3/11/2004 3:00:00 PM

By Fire Controlman 2nd Class Joseph W. Lovett, USS Port Royal, and Lt. Chris Davis, ESG 1 Public Affairs

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) -- USS Port Royal (CG 73) returned home to Pearl Harbor March 11 following a six-and-a-half month deployment with Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 1.

The 350 crew members assigned to Port Royal returned to "the Navy's best homeport" following operations in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Port Royal deployed Sept. 2 with ESG 1, supporting a Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps-sanctioned strike group experiment designed to provide forces that are more flexible in the global war on terrorism. Under the plan, the Navy could field 12 ESGs and 12 Carrier Strike Groups, in addition to independent surface strike groups that conduct maritime interdiction patrols, counter-drug and other naval presence operations around the world.

Port Royal, the last of the Ticonderoga-class of AEGIS guided-missile cruisers, performed duties as Air Defense Commander (ADC) for the seven-ship flotilla. Port Royal operators controlled the network of sensors, data-links, missile systems and Marine Corps aircraft that combined to form an air defense umbrella over ESG 1 ships and Marines ashore.

At various times, Port Royal was also assigned as the ADC for all Persian Gulf maritime operations. During these periods, Port Royal tracked all U.S. and coalition aircraft operating over the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Port Royal used the AEGIS system and associated Command and Control networks flawlessly in performance of these complex and demanding duties.

"This was a challenging and highly successful deployment for Port Royal and ESG 1," said Commanding Officer Capt. Pat Allen. "We developed new tactics, techniques and procedures that will pave the way for surface combatants to participate in the global war on terrorism.

"Working with the 13th MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit] Marine Special Purpose Forces was particularly rewarding," Allen added. "It was a powerful new experience for the crew and embarked Marines."

Port Royal was innovative and resourceful during the course of the deployment. The ship served as "platform of choice" for the 13th MEU's Force Reconnaissance Platoon for Visit, Board, Search and Seizure operations.

With Port Royal acting as on-scene commander, the cruiser/USMC team intercepted and boarded a suspect fishing dhow Dec 31, that was discovered to be smuggling 2,800 pounds of hashish with an estimated street value of $11 million. The 15 dhow crew members, suspected of possible links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network, were detained and delivered to coalition forces ashore.

In addition to a variety of security cooperation exercises with countries in the U.S. Central Command/5th Fleet area of responsibility, Port Royal Participated in Exercise Sea Saber, the fifth in a series of multi-national exercises based on the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) announced by President Bush in May 2003 in Krakow, Poland.

Thirteen of the 16 coalition PSI participants provided personnel and military and law enforcement forces to the exercise. Led by U.S. 5th Fleet and ESG 1, Port Royal played a major role in the success of the event by serving as intercept and blocking ship to the simulated WMD [weapons of mass destruction]-carrying vessel, portrayed by USNS Saturn (T-AFS 10). Port Royal exercised its unique capability to forward live video of tactical action in progress to higher authority command centers afloat and ashore.

The ship now turns its focus toward return and reunion with families and friends in Pearl Harbor.

"My kids are the only thing I am thinking about seeing right now," Storekeeper 2nd Class Mark Mcardle said.

Chief Culinary Specialist Thomas Esclito expects duty and a plate lunch the day the ship returns, but the day after is a different story. "I am going to have Christmas with my two kids around our brown tree that is still standing surrounded by gifts," Esclito said.

Some crew members will take advantage of the beauty Hawaii has to offer.

"I want to kiss the sand," said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Jeff Aldridge, an avid beach-goer and outdoorsman.

Port Royal and the rest of the ESG have earned the appreciation of the strike group commander, Rear Adm. Bob Conway.

"Breaking with paradigms is a difficult prospect to consider, let alone execute. But did they do it? You bet they did. They made it happen the way they always make it happen, and I am very proud of all our Sailors and Marines," said Conway.

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