San Diego, California - An influx of new faces can be seen moving around the deckplates of aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
After nearly two years, Nimitz has finally embarked her full complement of Sailors and aircraft by welcoming aboard members of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 11 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, bringing with them the deafening roar of aircraft launching and landing on the flight deck.
Roughly 1,500 Sailors were welcomed aboard Nimitz as she got underway with her embarked air wing and strike group for the first time since concluding her 20-month planned incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
"When Nimitz moved down to Bremerton, [Washington], CSG 11 stayed up in Everett, and after two years it created a separation between us," said Command Master Chief Aaron Coke, the senior enlisted leader for CSG 11. "From the khaki level down, we've been working to break that barrier. Our multicultural committees will be coordinated with one another; our junior enlisted associations have already contacted one another. It's important we build this foundation now so we are already integrated as a team for the long haul ahead."
Commander, Carrier Strike Group 11 Rear Adm. Bill D. Byrne and his staff embarked Nimitz almost immediately to build on this same foundation.
"It is not common for the strike group to embark this early in the work-up cycle," said Rear Adm. Bill D. Byrne, commander, CSG 11. "I am glad that we have. We are working on the relationships needed to create and build a cohesive and successful warfighting team."
Carrier strike groups play a vital role in the National Military Strategy by being the centerpiece of visible maritime deterrence, and continue to be decisive in peace, natural disasters, and war.
"Today, more than ever, U.S. national interests require the speed, endurance, flexibility, and autonomous nature of U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which deploys, operates, and is prepared to fight as part of a carrier strike group." said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces.
"Even when faced with contested waters and airspace, the composition and maneuverability of a CSG ensures survivability of the carrier while it's embarked carrier air wing uses its integrated capabilities to project power, thus enabling the U.S. to continue its role as a key guarantor of peace and stability around the world," he added.
With Nimitz still at the beginning of preparations to deploy next year, integrating the rest of CSG 11 allows Nimitz and CVW 11 Sailors to learn each other's roles during the training phase, which will maximize operational effectiveness once deployed.
The Sailors, pilots, and equipment of CVW 11 are the first elements of the carrier strike group to integrate with Nimitz and her crew in the work-up cycle.
As part of their first functional underway, Nimitz welcomed the "Argonauts" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, the "Black Knights" of VFA 154, the "Blue Diamonds" of VFA 146, the "Death Rattlers" of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, the "Gray Wolves" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 142, the "Blue Tails" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121, the "Eightballers" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, the "Wolfpack" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squdron (HSM) 75 and the "Providers" of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30.
The VFA and VMFA squadrons bring three variants of the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet with fighter/attack aircraft capabilities that provide fleet air defense, force protection, and close- and deep-air support.
VAQ 142, with its attached EA-18G Growler, combines the capabilities of the combat-proven F/A-18 strike fighter platform while providing an umbrella of protection for strike aircraft, ground troops, and ships by jamming air defense systems and communications.
The E-2D Hawkeye from VAW 121 provides all-weather early warning, airborne battle management, and command and control functions for the strike group.
HSC 8, with its MH-60S Sea Hawk is used for its multi-mission capabilities including anti-surface and naval special warfare support, search and rescue operations, and logistical and humanitarian operations.
The MH-60R Sea Hawk of HSM 75, deployable from the decks of cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers, is pivotal in self-defense, anti-ship warfare, and anti-submarine warfare.
VRC 30, with its C-2A Greyhound is a critical logistics-oriented squadron, capable of carrying mission critical supplies, mail, or passengers.
The embarkation of the air wing brings with it new operational capabilities for Nimitz, and even more new experiences for many Sailors. While some have been through the routine of air operations on the flight deck, others are eager to learn and get a chance to see their aircraft operational.
"This is a great opportunity for me to learn and to get the squadrons back into the swing of things," said Seaman Abraham Alvarez, a Sailor assigned to VAQ 142. "I'm hoping to get the knowledge and experience to be efficient, so when the real job starts we're ready."
From junior enlisted to senior officer, all hands are doing their part to set everything in motion for the mission ahead.
"I am unbelievably impressed by every Sailor up and down the chain of command," said Byrne. "The leadership throughout every rank is obvious. I'm happy to be here and proud to be part of the team."
With her air wing attached, flight deck certification complete, and ammunition slated to be onloaded in the coming weeks, Nimitz and the rest of CSG 11 stand motivated to overcome future obstacles and rise as a testament to U.S. maritime might.