January 17, 2005
Stennis heads for Bremerton in big deck realignment plan
By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer
CORONADO, Calif. — As San Diego ship deployments go, the Jan. 5 departure of the carrier John C. Stennis was a quiet affair, as only two dozen or so friends and family members watched the carrier and 1,500 crew members head for open ocean.
The departure from North Island Naval Station marks a home port change for Stennis, which was expected to arrive in Bremerton, Wash., after a three-day transit.
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class (SW) Chuck Jones waited on the pier as his brother prepared to man the rails for the morning departure.
Jones, 24, like his brother, has been a Stennis sailor for more than four years, but he wasn’t making this latest deployment. With orders to move soon to Misawa, Japan, Jones instead waved goodbye to his brother and watched, for the first time, as his ship left.
It was a morning of mixed feelings. “There’s just so many friends who are going to be gone,” he said.
His brother, Electronics Technician 3rd Class (SW) Jeff Jones, brought along his belongings: three seabags, two boxes and two computers. A shipmate friend had already lined up an apartment in Silverdale, a town on Puget Sound north of Bremerton.
“I’m hoping to get out, just to see what they have to offer,” said Jeff Jones, 23, of his new hometown.
Last spring, Navy officials decided to shift the carrier fleet. In the shuffle of the big decks, they agreed to send Stennis to Bremerton, and the newest flattop, Ronald Reagan, arrived in San Diego in July.
This month, with Stennis’ arrival, Carl Vinson will depart on a long deployment to Norfolk, Va., for a refueling and maintenance period. Undetermined is whether Norfolk will become its permanent home port.
Once in Bremerton, Stennis will enter Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a 10-month maintenance period and an additional 1½ months for systems upgrades, said Lt. Corey Barker, Stennis’ public affairs officer. Crew members who live aboard Stennis will live on a berthing barge once the carrier gets to the yards in late January. The carrier will take on some Vinson sailors, who cross-deck once their carrier leaves Bremerton this month.
For Stennis, which has been “in the water” since its commissioning in 1995, the next year will bring much-needed TLC.
“We’ve got to get up there so we can get the ship into the dry dock period,” said Capt. Joseph Kuzmick, the ship’s executive officer, who likened the yard period to a vehicle’s 60,000-mile checkup.
After the dry-dock period, Stennis will go out for a sea trial, and then begin training. “We’re not sure where we’ll deploy, or when,” said Capt. David Buss, the ship’s commanding officer. “But we’ll be ready to go.”
Stennis left San Diego without any aircraft, but with an interesting cargo: Its hangar bay was crammed with 250 vehicles, which lent the ship the air of a Puget Sound ferry.
“We’re using the carrier as a ‘lift of opportunity,’” Buss said. The stormy, wintry weather that’s left record rains and snow in Southern California in recent weeks prompted the skipper to encourage sailors to skip the long drive north through Northern California and Oregon, which he noted saved them some money, too.
The move of Stennis will leave only two flattops, Nimitz and Reagan, permanently based in San Diego. North Island, however, is a regular stop for West Coast-based carriers that operate and train with strike groups and carrier air wings at offshore training ranges.
I feel better with our carriers out of enemy territory.