Vietnam Time

4/14/2018 9:52:20 AM

USS Carl Vinson returns home from historic visit to Vietnam

Most of the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group sailed home to North Island and San Diego on Thursday after a historic mission.

The carrier Carl Vinson parked at the Naval Air Station North Island pier shortly after 9 a.m., with the destroyer Wayne E. Meyer arriving at Naval Base San Diego shortly after, completing a three-month deployment highlighted by an historic visit to Vietnam.

It came after Tuesday's Ventura County homecoming of members of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 113, the Black Eagles, who had been aboard the Carl Vinson. They were welcomed home by family members and friends at Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu.

The Carl Vinson’s 46,000-mile tour across the Western Pacific began only six months after returning to North Island but the Navy capped the deployment at three months to ease the burden on sailors and their families.

“It was a very smooth deployment,” said Capt. Douglas Verissimo, the carrier’s skipper. “I can’t tell you how proud I am with the way they handled the visit to Vietnam.”

Accompanied by the Lake Champlain and the Wayne E. Meyer, the early March port call in Danang marked the first time an American carrier had visited Vietnam since the fall of Saigon in 1975, which ended two decades of American efforts to defeat the communist government in Hanoi.

The nations normalized relations 20 years later and since 2003 have sought to boost ties through visits by American warships.

The now-mothballed frigate Vandegrift traveled to Ho Chi Minh City in 2003. In 2009, the dry cargo ship Richard C. Byrd docked in Cam Rahn Bay and seven years later the destroyer John S. McCain and submarine tender Frank Cable returned there.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson returns to its homeport in San Diego on Thursday. Carl Vinson returned to San Diego from a three-month deployment from operations in the Indo-Pacific. (Photo: DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE PHOTO)

The Carl Vinson’s tour included a stop in the Philippines and maneuvers with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. Manila and Tokyo dispute Chinese territorial claims near their shores, too.

“Our visit to Vietnam was about improving our bilateral relations with Vietnam,” strike group commander Rear Adm. John Fuller said. “Our visit to (the Philippines) was about improving our relations with our friends there. And while we were in theater we also operated with the French and the Japanese, so it was a routine deployment, what we’ve been doing for the past 70 years, increasing stability, security and prosperity in the region.”

The strike group’s tour also was an evolving demonstration of “Third Fleet Forward.” Dreamed up by Pacific Fleet commander Scott Swift, the concept gives him two fists to shake in the region, the large 7th Fleet based in Japan and a carrier strike group that’s controlled from Third Fleet’s Point Loma headquarters.

Operating independently but under Swift’s command, they can punch from multiple points on the globe to address threats from a nuclear North Korea and rising Pacific powers such as China and Russia.

Under the command of Rear Adm. James Kilby, the Carl Vinson’s early 2017 tour of the South China Sea marked the first version of Swift’s concept.

“The staff and the processes are better because we’re more proficient,” Fuller said.

Although the bulk of the nearly 7,000 Marines and sailors in the strike group came home on Thursday, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 4 flew to North Island on Wednesday.

The “Black Nights” recorded 95 days in the air — notching 1,340 flight hours and hauling 992 passengers and 372 tons of cargo.

With the Carl Vinson back in port, Third Fleet commanders continue to prep for this summer’s Rim of the World exercise. Nicknamed “RIMPAC” and held every two years, it’s the world’s largest international maritime maneuvers.

This year’s war games off the coasts of Hawaii and California are expected to draw at least 25,000 military personnel from 27 or more nations, including China and Vietnam.

Four days before the Carl Vinson returned to North Island, Vietnam People’s Navy Lt. Cmdr. Le Binh was at the event’s final planning conference in Point Loma.

"Everything has gone very well," said the commander of the Vietnam Assimilation Center in a news release. "We have achieved all of our goals and objectives for the conference. I have received a wonderful welcome to the RIMPAC planning community. I have gotten a lot of support from all my counterparts during the (conference). Every day I get more and more excited thinking about the exercise."

Homeported in San Diego, the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain and Hawaii-based destroyer Michael Murphy are slated to conduct exercises in the Pacific Ocean before wrapping up their truncated tours.

Carrier strike groups typically will deploy to sea for more than six months after revamping the ships and retraining crews for a year or more at home.’

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