WINDING DOWN ITS MISSION HERE
Vinson leaves on a wave and a prayer
• The aircraft carrier leaves Bremerton for a monthlong training mission.
By Chris Barron, Sun Staff
As the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson pulled out of port Wednesday afternoon, it marked the final time the ship will leave Bremerton on a training mission.
Because once the Carl Vinson departs West Sound in mid-January for a round-the-world, six-month deployment, it won't be coming back.
A year from November, the Vinson will begin an intensive 31/2-year refueling and overhaul in Newport News, Va., where the ship's insides will be gutted and rebuilt, and its two nuclear reactors refueled.
That means, in addition to normal deployment preparations, the Vinson's crew is planning for a home port change to the East Coast followed by a lengthy, intensive shipyard stay.
"We're kind of balancing three things right now," said Carl Vinson commanding officer Capt. Kevin Donegan, who took command of the ship in June.
"The change of home port, in particular, is tough because when we prepare for deployment we're also preparing our families for deployment."
A small portion of Carl Vinson families have already moved to Virginia to make it there before the school year. Many more will move during the Christmas holidays, but the majority will head east in the summer, Donegan said.
The ship's leadership is trying to ease the burden on crew and their families for the move east. The ship has one officer dedicated solely to the making the home port change, and each of the ship's 17 departments has a home port coordinator.
Last month, a two-day information fair was conducted for families with officials from Virginia.
"We have a very large number of young sailors, and a large portion of them have families that are going to move to the East Coast for the first time in their lives," said Ray Evans, the Vinson's command master chief.
"The challenge is making sure we provide them with as much information and support as possible."
The carrier USS John C. Stennis is scheduled to arrive in Bremerton the first week of January as the Vinson's replacement. The Vinson will leave for good about a week later.
The Vinson's current training mission, which is scheduled for one month, will involve all the ships in its carrier strike group, marking the first time the ships have trained together.
Last week, the strike group began its training mission while all the ships were still in port by linking their combat systems. The ships simulated at-sea challenges.
"We can get a little more bang for our buck with sea time doing this (simulated) exercise," Donegan said. "You can't simulate everything, but it gets your procedures squared away and let's you take advantage of the sea time."
The Vinson also has taken advantage of its port time in Bremerton. Each time the ship has returned from a training mission, shipyard workers and crew members have performed much-needed maintenance, such as resurfacing the flight deck.
The carrier hasn't had a shipyard maintenance period since it left Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in September 2002. In an unprecedented move -- and a sign of the new Navy -- the Vinson will leave on a lengthy deployment in January without a traditional shipyard stay.
"We try to make sure that these national assets, these 12 aircraft carriers, are as available as they can be, as often as they can be and as short of notice as possible," Donegan said.
The Everett-based USS Abraham Lincoln is another example of that, as the carrier will deploy in October, just six months after leaving PSNS. The normal training cycle in preparing for a deployment used to be 18 months.
When the Vinson left on its 2003 deployment, however, it had been out of the shipyard just five months.
"The idea is to be responsive," Donegan said. "With the global war on terrorism, we can't always predict when we're going to be needed."
Reach reporter Chris Barron at (360) 792-9228 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wrapping up its stay
In January, USS Carl Vinson will leave after eight years as Bremerton’s homeported carrier. The carrier USS John C. Stennis, now based in San Diego, will replace it in the same month. The Carl Vinson has been one the Navy’s busiest carriers since the September 11th terrorist attacks. Here’s a quick look at the ship’s history in Bremerton.
January 17, 1997: USS Carl Vinson arrives as the replacement carrier for USS Nimitz.
Nov. 6, 1998: Leaves on first deployment out of Bremerton. Participates in Operation Desert Fox with strikes against Iraq.
July 23, 2001: Leaves for what is supposed to be a routine deployment.
October 2001: Launches first airstrikes against Afghanistan in response to September 11th.
Jan. 15, 2003: Leaves on what is supposed to be a monthlong training mission, only to return 8-1/2 months later because of Iraq war.
September 2004: USS Carl Vinson conducts its last training mission as a Bremerton-based carrier.
January 2005: Will leave for round-the-world deployment, ending in Virginia for 3-1/2-year refueling and overhaul.