The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group relieved the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group as Commander, Task Force (CTF) 50 July 6 and launched its first sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 departed the decks of the strike group's flagship, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) bound for Afghanistan to support coalition ground forces.
"I'm excited to get this started because, in essence, what we're doing is saving American and coalition lives," said Capt. Kenneth Norton, Ronald Reagan's commanding officer. "The Eisenhower strike group did a fantastic job in theater, and we're ready to continue that level of support. We have a lot of experience on board Ronald Reagan and with the air wing. Our crew knows how to execute this mission effectively."
While Ronald Reagan and CVW-14 are returning to a mission they did a year ago, they understand that conditions in Afghanistan have changed. Already focused on minimizing collateral damage, they understand processes are even more rigorous. There are new, stricter guidelines put in place by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to do even more to help minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage in Afghanistan.
According to Rear Adm. Scott Hebner, the strike group's commander, the group's more than 7,500 Sailors are trained and equipped to carry out their mission.
"Our Sailors are focused and serious minded about what is ahead; they know the Navy and our country is counting on them," Hebner said. "They are ready to demonstrate their impressive capabilities across the spectrum of our maritime strategy."
The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group operated in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Operations since March.
"Our preparations last fall allowed us to deliver exactly what the fleet commander asked for -- persistent U.S. naval power, in perfect partnership with our joint and coalition partners, delivering security and stability for the good of all mariners in this vital area of the world," said Rear Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group.
Eisenhower's embarked air wing, CVW-7, flew more than 2,000 sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Ships of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group also were vital in counterpiracy operations, including the USS Bainbridge's (DDG 96) direct role in the rescue of the captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips.
"I am extremely proud of the 4,500 men and women on USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). They have performed magnificently this entire deployment," said Capt. Dee L. Mewbourne, Eisenhower's commanding officer. "They supported coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan with utmost professionalism while providing regional security and stability. Without question, their service made a difference."
USS Ronald Reagan is joined by the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62). Other Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group ships will support maritime security operations (MSO) while deployed to the region. The guided-missile destroyers USS Decatur (DDG 73), USS Howard (DDG 83) and USS Gridley (DDG 101) and the guided-missile frigate USS Thach (FFG 43) will help deter destabilizing activities and ensure a lawful maritime order in the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
The squadrons of CVW-14 include the "Redcocks" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22, the "Fist of the Fleet" of VFA-25, the "Stingers" of VFA-113, the "Eagles" of VFA-115, the "Black Eagles" of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 113, the "Cougars" of Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 139 and the "Black Knights" of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 4. A detachment from Fleet Logistics Squadron (VRC) 30 is providing logistics support to the carrier.
The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment to the region. Operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Operations are focused on reassuring regional partners of the United States' commitment to security, which promotes stability and global prosperity.
Lt. Jason Budde, a shooter aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), launches an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the "Eagles" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 off of the flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Torrey W. Lee/Released)