USS Stennis on way home from Middle East

ARABIAN SEA — The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is returning home after providing nearly four months of air support to allied troops in Afghanistan.

The final mission, carried out by pilots from Carrier Air Wing 9, launched off the flight deck of Bremerton-based aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

“We leave with our heads held high,” Capt. Dell Bull, commander of CVW-9, said in a dispatch from the ship. “We have not missed a single mission and hit every target we aimed for on the first pass every time. The response we get back from the joint tactical air controllers on the ground has been tremendous. It’s the work of all of us, the air wing, the strike group and the ship, that made that possible.”

The Stennis made back-to-back deployments to the Middle East. The ship returned March 2, 2012, from a seven-month trip and departed on Aug. 27, four months early, for this eight-month mission. This time, Stennis and CVW-9 flew about 1,200 sorties amounting to more than 7,400 flight hours in support of troops in Afghanistan.

“We had a an EA-6B Prowler mission a few weeks ago where the troops we were defending reported that, had we not been there, they would not be alive today,” Bull said.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group and Carrier Air Wing 7 will relieve the Stennis Strike Group.

Stennis generally stops in Hawaii after deployments and then heads to San Diego to drop off its air wing before returning to Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton. It is expected to arrive in early May.

The strike group comprises Stennis, CVW-9, Destroyer Squadron 21 and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay.