By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph R. Wax, USS Enterprise Public Affairs
ABOARD USS ENTERPRISE (NNS) -- Enterprise Strike Group (ENTSG), led by the strike group commander, Rear Adm. Dan Holloway, returned to its homeport of Norfolk, Dec. 19 after a five-month deployment in support of Maritime Security Operations, Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), Iraqi oil platform protection, anti-piracy operations and the struggle against violent extremists.
The more than 5,500 Sailors and Marines aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) traveled approximately 48,646 miles throughout the course of the deployment, doing everything from combat operations to diplomatic relations missions in the 6th and 5th fleet areas of responsibility (AOR).
"The Enterprise Strike Group team is at the top of their game," said Holloway. "They are all MVPs on a forward deployed all-star team. We are blessed with the best the Navy has to offer world wide. Our men, women, Sailors and Marines are the face of the Navy and the nation."
After getting underway on July 7, Enterprise and all of its embarked members traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and into the 6th Fleet AOR, where they hosted the French Chief of Naval Operations as well as the U.S. Ambassador to France to observe a historic landing and launch of a French Rafale F2 jet.
This was the first time a French strike aircraft had landed on board a U.S. carrier. Enterprise then became the first American carrier to pull into a French port in six years when it stopped for a three-day port visit in Cannes, France.
Enterprise then shifted its focus East to combat operations in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of OIF and OEF, where it would spend 55 straight days at sea before making the first of its three port calls in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates.
During its time in combat, ENTSG aircraft flew more than 7,500 missions and made more than 6,500 arrested landings. In support of the troops on the ground, ENTSG pilots dropped 73 air-to-ground weapons and fired 4,149 rounds of 20mm ammunition.
"This was the second extended combat deployment for Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 in a mere 20 months and the team performed superbly," said Capt. Mark Wralstad, CVW-1 commander.
For members of the strike group's leadership, there was one event during the deployment that defined not only what ENTSG is all about, but also what the carriers bring to the Navy and the nation.
While conducting operations in the North Persian Gulf in support of OIF and OEF, Enterprise received an order to make an immediate change to the mission at hand.
"Admiral Holloway called me on the phone at 1:30 in the morning and said, 'Captain, after the helo (helicopter) lands, we need to turn south, out through the Straits of Hormuz, to conduct Operation Enduring Freedom flight ops,'" said Enterprise's Commanding Officer, Capt. Ron Horton. "Thirty-six hours after he made that call to me, we were launching aircraft into Afghanistan."
There are a lot of little things that need to be done to keep a warship like Enterprise and a strike group like ENTSG going throughout a deployment.
The Sailors and Marines on board completed 26 underway replenishments, receiving more than 12 million gallons of fuel; cooked and served approximately 4 million meals totaling more than $11 million; performed more than 4,200 preventative and corrective maintenance actions on the catapults and arresting gear to keep CVW-1 aircraft in the sky; transferred 3,960 pallets of cargo and hosted 303 distinguished visitors during 19 visits.
"The ability of our Sailors, in all the departments, to overcome the challenges is amazing," said Horton. "Because of the skill, the dedication and intestinal fortitude of this crew, we overcame every challenge."
The crew members of the ENTSG were able to accomplish more than just success in combat. Approximately 1,300 Navy College Program for Afloat College Education classes were completed; more than 300 Sailors were advanced; Sailors earned nearly 900 warfare pins and 304 Sailors reenlisted for almost $11 million in reenlistment bonuses.
However, nothing can be accomplished underway if things aren't being taken care of back at home. The leaders of ENTSG expressed their deepest, heartfelt gratitude to all family, friends and loved ones who's sacrifice and effort made the deployment possible.
"We want to thank all those families, loved ones and friends who have provided us their thoughtful prayers and loving and caring support during the entire 2007 year and especially during this combat deployment," said Holloway. "We could not sustain the level of focused, full spectrum combat operations without the enduring support of our loved ones. We thank them from the bottom of our heart. The loved ones at home allow us to focus so we can safely do our jobs as we serve this great nation."
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