Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Kennedy Crew, Routine Is the Enemy Keeping a Fresh Focus on Mission Is Big Challenge

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Kennedy Crew, Routine Is the Enemy Keeping a Fresh Focus on Mission Is Big Challenge

Article excerpt

Byline: Rachel Davis, Times-Union staff writer

ABOARD THE USS JOHN F. KENNEDY -- After 19 weeks at sea, the days begin to blur. Today looks like yesterday and the day before. Almost five months into the deployment, the well-greased crew is over the hump but too far from the finish line to slow down.

But operations are becoming routine for the crew, and keeping a fresh focus on the mission rather than the calendar gets harder with each passing day.

Day and night flight operations keep the carrier deck in constant motion while launching jets over the beach of Pakistan. Since arriving in the north Arabian Sea, the carrier has provided close air support for the ground troops in the mountains of Afghanistan along with other U.S. carriers operating in the region.

The Kennedy's embarked air wing unloaded 32 tons of ordnance on Taliban and al-Qaida targets during the first 10 days on station.

"When we arrived, Operation Anaconda was in progress and there were troops in contact that needed us," said Capt. Ronald H. Henderson Jr., the ship's commanding officer. "They [ground troops] called for us and we responded."

Since then, other U.S. carriers have pulled out of the region and the air wing hasn't dropped any live weapons over Afghanistan. Operations are becoming more routine, something the captain has to combat.

"The days do look the same and, of course, that's part of the challenge of staying motivated, staying in step," Henderson said. "But you can't get comfortable here."

It's been a different role for the Kennedy than its predecessor, the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The Navy said the aviators with the Roosevelt, which the Kennedy relieved March 6 after maintenance delays, flew 11,129 sorties, logged more than 30,000 flight hours and dropped 939 tons of ordnance. The Roosevelt also remained at sea without a port call for a record 159 days.

Although the Kennedy crew is counting the days to homecoming and the replacement carrier USS George Washington is on its way, the importance of the mission is not lost for the 5,000 crew members that have called this ship their home. …

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