GREGG KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aviators on the carrier USS Kitty Hawk helped it become one of three aircraft carriers to record 400,000 landings or "traps." On Friday, an F-18 Hornet with Carrier Wing 5 approached the flight deck of the Kitty Hawk as it was 150 miles southeast of Oahu.
Carrier sets sights on subs
USS Kitty Hawk crew also help tag marine life during RIMPAC
150 MILES OFF OAHU » The commander of the aircraft USS Kitty Hawk strike group is pleased with the amount of anti-submarine training his sailors and aviators accomplished during naval war games in the waters between Oahu and the Big Island.
3 Hawaii residents aboard Kitty Hawk
Among the 5,000 sailors on USS Kitty Hawk's historic last cruise are three Hawaii residents -- Petty Officers Brianna Frazier, Justin Pascual and Ryan Yamada.
Both Frazier and Pascual are 2004 Moanalua High School graduates.
"It's exciting," said Pascual, 21. "Not a lot of sailors get experience decommissioning a ship and being a member of the last conventional carrier in the fleet."
Frazier, 22, added: "We're the last crew of the oldest carrier in the fleet. That alone is awesome."
Yamada, a 2004 Pahoa High School graduate from the Big Island, said: "It's been tough because of all the changes that have been taking place, but rewarding in the end. We're made to be flexible."
Yamada will head to Japan when the Kitty Hawk's staff transfers to the carrier USS George Washington. Frazier, who just re-enlisted, will be attending weather forecasting school in September. Pascual, who aspires to play the saxophone in a Navy band, will transfer to the USS Boxer, where he will continue as part of the ship's engineering crew.
Rear Adm. Rick Wren, commander of the strike group, commands Task Force 70 during the ongoing Rim of the Pacific naval exercise. Besides the U.S carrier, the group includes 14 ships from Canada, South Korea, Chile, Singapore and Australia.
Talking with reporters Friday during a lull in the launching and recovery of F-18 Hornet jets, Wren said his ships are also helping in an effort with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to survey, tag and track marine mammals.
Scientists from NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Duke University, Cascadia Research and other organizations are working aboard the NOAA research vessel Oscar Elton Sette and smaller vessels.
Wren said his task force has seen marine mammals since the operational phase of the naval exercise began July 8, which included undersea warfare training where U.S. and coalition warships practice detecting and tracking submarines, especially the more quiet diesel-powered models.
Wren didn't say whether anti-submarine warfare training has been hindered by the mitigation measures that the Navy and NOAA adopted during RIMPAC exercises two years ago and which are still in place to minimize potential injury to marine mammals caused by mid-frequency sonar.
"At this point, we continue to apply those, and right now we are really pleased with the amount of training accomplished so far," Wren said.
Those mitigation measures include posting lookouts and reducing or halting sonar transmissions when marine mammals are spotted.
Beginning Thursday , RIMPAC will shift into its final phase of the naval war games, with a scenario in which U.S. and coalition forces come to an aid of a Pacific Rim country. That tactical phase, which will end July 28, will involve amphibious beach assaults by Marines and their equipment at Bellows Air Force Station and the Marine base at Kaneohe Bay next weekend.
Wren will take the Kitty Hawk after RIMPAC ends this month to San Diego, where, as commander of Task Force 70, also known as Carrier Strike Group 5, he and his staff will be transferred to the nuclear carrier USS George Washington and leave for Japan at the end of August. The 1,092-foot Washington will be the first nuclear air carrier to be stationed at Yokosuka, Japan.
The Kitty Hawk, commissioned in April 1961, is the oldest warship in the Navy on active duty and the last carrier propelled by steam engines. It will be decommissioned in January, about the same time the Navy welcomes the carrier USS George H.W. Bush into the fleet.
Canadian Commodore Nigel Greenwood serves as Wren's task force sea commander directing the operations of the naval ships from five countries. This is the first time a Canadian has had a RIMPAC senior leadership role while embarked on a U.S. aircraft carrier. The 14 warships provide anti-submarine and anti-surface defense of the Kitty Hawk.
"The important thing for us about RIMPAC is that it provides unprecedented opportunity, for each of these navies to practice their critical warfighting skills, but also to develop the capabilities for multinational cooperation and operations," Greenwood said.
The fundamental challenge in working with 10 nations are the different languages, including "terminology and procedures," he added. Greenwood is the head of the Canadian Fleet Pacific, based in Victoria, British Columbia.
This is the 21st RIMPAC, a biennial naval exercise that began in 1971. This summer's RIMPAC involves 20 U.S. Navy ships, 13 foreign ships, two Coast Guard cutters, three U.S. submarines, three foreign submarines, and more than 150 U.S. and foreign aircraft from 10 countries.