Sunday, January 13, 2002

Remember 9-11-01

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrived in Pearl Harbor on Tuesday for six days of liberty for sailors who participated in the war in Afghanistan. Sailors from Hawaii looked forward to reuniting with their families. Here, Kalei Kam, left, watched for uncle Guy DeCoito with DeCoito's wife, Pauline, and son, Alexander.

Home,  sweet home

Back home, isle sailors on the
USS Carl Vinson recall their
days in the Arabian Sea

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Navy Petty Officer Guy DeCoito will spend the next few weeks here making up for lost time.

He missed a Christmas and his 40th birthday while serving as a crewman on the U.S. aircraft carrier responsible for the first airstrikes in America's newest war.

DeCoito, a 1979 Pearl City High School graduate, was among the 7,000 sailors from the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group that steamed into Pearl Harbor on Tuesday for six days of liberty after 73 days in the Arabian Sea launching airstrikes and Tomahawk missiles against Afghanistan.

Lt. Ryan McCaulley of Lanikai said that when the Carl Vinson left its home port in Bremerton, Wash., on July 23, its crew "expected this would be a routine deployment."

Along with attack submarines USS Key West and Olympia and the destroyer USS O'Kane from Pearl Harbor, the six months in the Western Pacific was supposed to be part of the continuing air surveillance campaign in which the 46 jet fighters from the Carl Vinson were to enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch.

Ryan McCaully gets a warm welcome from Kimberly Lund. Both are Lanikai residents.

But as the nine-warship battle group rounded the southern tip of India on Sept. 11 bound for the Persian Gulf and the continuing battle against Iraq, the world changed and so did the mission of the Carl Vinson battle group.

Capt. Rick Wren, skipper of the Carl Vinson, recalled being called to the bridge to view what was being televised.

"You have to look at the TV," Wren said he was told. As he and millions of other Americans watched the events in New York and at the Pentagon, Wren's comments were a simple: "Oh, my God."

Instead of maneuvering into the Persian Gulf, the battle group remained on station in the Arabian Sea. It took nearly a month for the carrier to prepare for its new mission, Wren said just after his battle group docked at Pearl Harbor last week.

From there in the Arabian Sea, the battle group began to plan for the first strike.

"We designed all the operations area, collected ships from multiple countries, from multiple forces and multiple carriers, and prepared ourselves for the phone call," Wren said.

That call came Oct. 7.

Edward Purdy, originally from Pukalani, Maui, greeted his wife, Gwen, daughter, Abby, and son, Braden.

"We were all planned up," he said. "We knew exactly where we were going. All the intelligence was collected. The target lists were made. At 18:26 on 7th of October, I watched the first Tomahawk missiles come out of small buoy that was stationed on my starboard bow. Four minutes later, the first aircraft from Carrier Wing 11 left the deck of this ship.

"This is the most magnificent thing I have done in my adult life." said Wren, adding that he believes the 5,000 sailors on the carrier would endorse that statement.

Wren said: "The vision of 9/11 drove this crew for 16 to 22 hours a day ... for 111 days -- that was the time we left Singapore in September until we hit it again on the way home. The vision of 9/11 was their motivation. That, coupled with the amazing response of the American people.

"This ship has been absolutely almost overwhelmed -- boxes and boxes of thank-yous and Christmas cards and boxes of Christmas cookies," he said. "If you go down to our mess decks, you'll see the most incredible red, white and blue homemade flags."

Carl Vinson aviators flew 4,200 combat sorties and logged 10,731 hours. The carrier's ordnance teams built 2,025,176 pounds of bombs and rockets, which its aviators dropped on Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds.

The Carl Vinson also played a key role in another war, one that took place on the screen. And on Nov. 23, Twentieth Century Fox brought the international premiere of its new film, "Behind Enemy Lines," to the flight deck of the carrier in the North Arabian Sea.

The action-adventure film stars Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, David Keith, the Carl Vinson and several members of the Vinson crew. Much of the movie was filmed aboard the Carl Vinson and USS Constellation last February.

The Carl Vinson and the Kitty Hawk carrier battle groups were replaced in the North Arabian Sea by the USS Roosevelt and the USS John Stennis. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who as head of U.S. Central Command is running the war in Afghanistan, wants at least two carrier battle groups on station in the Arabian Sea. The USS Kennedy is scheduled to leave its home port in Mayport, Fla., in mid-January, two months ahead of schedule to relieve the Roosevelt so it won't have to extend its six-month deployment.

The battle group centered around the Stennis includes two cruisers, San Diego-based Lake Champlain and Hawaii-based Port Royal; two destroyers, Decatur and Elliot, both from San Diego; the frigate Jarrett from San Diego; and the replenishment ship Bridge from Bremerton. The Port Royal left Pearl Harbor on Nov. 17.

But for DeCoito's three sons -- Alexander, 11, Danavan, 10 and Nichals, 6 -- all that was important was that dad is home for the first time since May and the beaches at Ko Olina beckon.

The beach was also where Braden Purdy wanted to take his dad, Edward Purdy of Pukalani on Maui, as soon as he was free.

However, Edward Purdy was just looking forward to his first real plate lunch in nearly a year.

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