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Stennis Teams with Army, Marines in OEF Missions

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070305-03
Release Date: 3/5/2007 3:16:00 PM

By Lt. Nathan Christensen, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea (NNS) -- The face of USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Strike Group (JCSSG) is a little different than most ships operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation (AOO).

Aboard Stennis, there are Navy, Marine Corps and Army personnel working together in an environment where joint execution is essential to ensuring the mission success of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan.

“This is the epitome of a joint operation,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Quinn, Commander Carrier Strike Group (CSG)3. “Our primary mission is to conduct air operations in support of joint and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan. Every single mission we conduct is a joint one.”

Stennis Commanding Officer Capt. Bradley Johanson noted that everyone on board plays an important role in joint operations.

“Support for coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan starts here on the deckplates of Stennis where everyone on board plays a vital role in achieving overall mission success in OEF,” said Johanson. “From those preparing food in the galley to personnel on the flight deck helping launch aircraft to the engineers who provide propulsion for the ship, everyone has important responsibilities. The men and women of Stennis ensure that the ship is able successfully launch aircraft to execute operations in support of OEF."

Aboard Stennis, not only are Navy personnel supporting coalition ground forces in Afghanistan, but there are Army Soldiers and Marines stationed aboard Stennis that give a traditionally blue Navy ship, a more purple hue.

“Retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn stated that carrier aviation could be considered ‘the world's largest and most complex team sport,’” said Capt. Sterling Gilliam, commander, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9. “That analogy resonates with me because one only has to observe the activities on the flight deck to make the connection.”

The “Death Rattlers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323) embarked Stennis with JCSSG on Jan. 20, from San Diego, and have played a critical role in supporting ground forces engaged in OEF.

The squadron consists of 18 Marine Corps pilots who fly the all-weather carrier strike fighter F/A-18C Hornets capable of ground and air attacks and 145 Marines that help maintain, repair and service the aircraft.

“Ultimately, a Marine squadron operates just like a Navy squadron,” said Marine 1st Lt. Bradley Byers, a pilot with VMFA-323. “We bring a different perspective and help provide close-air support to Marines and Soldiers on the ground operating in support of OEF. We have a great respect and understanding for what the Marines and Soldiers on the ground deal with. We put a heavy emphasis on doing what it takes to help those on the ground and are here to support them.”

With 10 Hornet jets on board, skilled Marines to support and fly the aircraft, the Death Rattlers have a great deal to offer JCSSG.

The joint environment aboard Stennis is also enhanced by Army Soldiers serving on board Stennis. Maj. Dave Lander and Sgt. 1st Class John Reardon work in the carrier intelligence center as liaisons to coordinate operations between the pilots of CVW-9 and the Soldiers on the ground in theater.

In short, Lander and Reardon translate Army language for Navy pilots and then back again to Army speak for ground forces operating in Afghanistan.

“The incorporation of the ground liaison officer (GLO) team has made a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of CVW-9,” said Gilliam. “Their combat expertise, insight and ability to communicate rapidly with the ground elements have allowed our air crews to arrive on station with much better battle space awareness.”

Lander said their mission on Stennis is to support joint OEF operations and make sure the pilots are better prepared to support ground forces. “We’ve got the same mission. We bring the ground forces together with the Navy air power in the same place to defeat the enemy.”

A key mission of CVW-9 is providing close air support for ground forces in Afghanistan.

“We are flying missions in support of troops that we have on the ground,” said Lt. Steve Neebe, a pilot with Attack Fighter Squadron 147 (VFA-147). “It’s not a personal fight for us most of the time, it’s a guy on the ground who is calling for support and we’re there to provide that support for them.”

The men and women of JCSSG have formed a joint team in order to provide support for coalition forces on the ground as well as help bring security and stability to the region.

“Everyday we conduct joint operations,” said Quinn. “Navy and Marine Corps air crews fly missions, Army GLOs communicate with ground elements and we are dependent on Air Force tankers to conduct operations over Afghanistan.”

JCSSG enters its second week of combat operations over Afghanistan in support of OEF on March 7. Stennis entered the U.S. 5th Fleet AOO on Feb.19 to provide support for ground forces operating in Afghanistan as well as conduct maritime security operations.

MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

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