Aircraft carrier visits Guam for R&R amid concerns over China
By Frank Whitman
The U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and ships from the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group pulled into Apra Harbor on Feb. 26 carrying about 5,000 service members for a rest and recreation port call.
The R&R comes as the ship completes three months of deployment during which it traveled about 30,000 miles and completed 5,600 launch and recoveries of aircraft, said Capt. Craig Sicola, commanding officer of the Nimitz, during a media availability following the carrier’s arrival at Naval Base Guam.
“The real mission out here that we’ve been conducting the whole time is just presence operation and enabling freedom of seas throughout all the areas and enabling all our allies and partners to operate in the freedom that we know that we love here today,” Sicola said.
The ship left its home port of San Diego to begin its current deployment to the Indo-Pacific region in early December 2022 and is expected to end the deployment during the upcoming summer. The port call is a chance to “recharge, regain our readiness and continue to sail, operate and fly in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, commander of Carrier Strike Group 11.
The port call also follows, by two days, the release of a video report by CBS Evening News reporter Norah O’Donnell from aboard the Nimitz with the subhead “USS Nimitz in ready position as China tensions rise.” She reports that close calls between U.S. and Chinese forces in the region occur almost daily.
When asked about the CBS report, Sweeney noted that the U.S. has been operating in the region for 75 years.
“We’ve been interacting with our allies and partners and (People’s Liberation Army Navy) forces whether that’s in the air, on the sea joint air operations,” he said. “We continue to do that in accordance with international law and we’ll continue to do that. It’s all been safe and professional since we’ve been here.”
The U.S. operates in accordance with international norms and standards “and we expect the Chinese to operate that way,” Sweeney said.
“We expect them to operate safely and resolutely. I just think we’re going to be resolute in how we operate and we’re going to do it safely. Flying over international air space is a safety-of-flight issue obviously for commercial aircraft. We seek no confrontation with China. The president and the secretary of state are open to dialogue, so we will continue to sail, operate and fly where international rules allow us to," he added.
The CBS report has generated a positive response from the public and has given Sweeney “an overwhelming sense of pride in the entire team here,” he said. “I’m just honored to lead this group of sailors. I’ve been in the Navy 32 years, and I’ve waited for 32 years to show off my sailors, just to show how professional they are, to the American people.”
The report is “a fabulous way to show off what our sailors do each and every day and how it matters,” Sweeney said.
Sailors assigned to the Nimitz include several from Guam. They said they were looking forward to seeing their families and friends, and enjoying the beaches and local food.
Aviation Electrician’s Mate Airman Kailani Cordova, of Tamuning, said she hadn’t seen her family in two years. “I’m going to surprise them,” she said. “They don’t know that I’m coming home.” She was looking forward to hiking and showing Guam to her friends from the ship.
Seaman Tylar Barcinas, of Malesso, said she had seen her family just before the deployment began, but was looking forward to “enjoying the peace and quiet on the beach” with her family.
The USS Nimitz was commissioned May 3, 1975 making it the Navy’s oldest active aircraft carrier. It is 1,092 feet long and 244 feet high. Its full flight deck with island and hangar deck can accommodate up to 90 aircraft.