By Devon Hubbard Sorlie, Communication and Outreach Division, Naval History and Heritage Command
Just one ship is celebrating a special commemorative commissioning date for December, the 20-year-old USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was commissioned Dec. 9, 1995 at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., after having been delivered to the Navy seven months ahead of its contracted date. The ship is also the first to be named after Sen. John Cornelius Stennis, a Democrat from Mississippi who served in the Senate from 1947 to 1989. As a long-time member and sometimes chair of the Armed Services Committee from 1969 to 1980, Stennis earned the reputation as being the “Father of America’s Modern Navy.”
SO WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON?
- The price of a gallon of gasoline was around $1.07 during December 1995. Unemployment was 5.6 percent, or 7.2 million people out of work.
- The E-4 basic monthly salary (without Basic Allowance for Housing) was $1,056, but the average cost of a home tapped in at $165,600. The median family income in 1995 was $34,076 for 99,627 households.
- Movie goers in December 1995 were treated to the powerhouse duo of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in “Heat,” the cop-bank robber thriller written and directed by Michael Mann; and the pandemic-fighting duo of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in the time-bending “Twelve Monkeys,” while Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon shined in the redemption of a death-row murderer in “Dead Man Walking.” Those seeking slightly lighter holiday fare could watch Robin Williams battle errant lions, monkeys and rhinoceroses while playing the mysterious and twisted board game Jumanji.
- On the small screen, children could no longer wonder “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” after PBS aired the game show’s final episode Dec. 22, 1995.
- Topping the tunes on the radio included Goo Goo Dolls’ genre-crossing “Name,” a pair of Mariah Carey songs “One Sweet Day” and “Fantasy,” and Whitney Houston’s “Exhale.”
- Charles Kuralt’s book “America” about his favorite places during his CBS show “A Life on the Road” was among the most read books in December 1995, along with comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ “My Point…And I Do Have One,” and the self-titled autobiography by former newscaster David Brinkley.
Sports-wise, the Pete Sampras-led USA tennis team defeated Russia 3-2 during the 84th Davis Cup played in Moscow.
- Elsewhere in the world, NATO began peacekeeping in Bosnia, the worst winter storm in Buffalo history (at the time) dropped 37.9 inches of snow on the western New York City in 24 hours, and fans of Calvin & Hobbes mourned the final cartoon about a boy and his stuffed tiger.
After the ship’s shakedown cruise, USS Stennis was the first carrier in naval history to trap the landing of an F/A-18 E/F on Jan. 18, 1997.
The aircraft carrier departed Norfolk in February 1998 for its maiden deployment arriving in the Arabian Gulf in March to support Operation Southern Watch. The ship returned to its new homeport of San Diego in August.
On Nov. 30, 1999, the nuclear-powered ship ran aground in the shallow area at Naval Air Station North Island. In order to clear the intake pipes of silt, the cooling system was shut down for the two nuclear reactors for 45 minutes.
The glitch didn’t keep the ship from making its second scheduled deployment to the Fifth and Seventh Fleet areas of responsibility Jan. 28, 2000. The Carrier Air Wing (CVW 9) flew more than 10,000 sorties during the deployment before the ship returned to San Diego in July.
The following year, Paramount Pictures shot scenes on John C. Stennis for the movie “A Sum of all Fears.” A few weeks later, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the aircraft carrier conducted combat air patrol missions over southern California in support of Operation Noble Eagle.
On Nov. 12, JCS deployed two months earlier than planned to relieve sister carrier Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Arabian Sea. A month later, CVW-9 aircraft launched the first sorties in the North Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on Dec. 15, 2001.
The ship returned May 28, 2002 after 6 ½ months on station, logging more than 10,500 combat sorties and dropped 275,000 pounds of ordnance.
JCS’s next deployment was May 24, 2004 where the carrier took part in Operation Northern Edge off British Columbia and RIMPAC near Japan as part of Summer Pulse 2004. The ship returned back to San Diego Nov. 1 before changing homeport again, this time at Bremerton, Wash., in January 2005.
On June 8, 2006, JCS fired both its Rolling Airframe Missile systems at a remotely-controlled BQM-34 Firebee drone during a weapons test.
After completing several exercises, the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group deployed Jan. 26, 2007 to the U.S. Fifth Fleet. On June 15, the flight deck tallied its 100,000th arrested landing after trapping an F/A-18F Super Hornet piloted by Executive Officer Cmdr. Clark Troyer and Lt. John Young of Strike Fighter Squadron 154. By the end of the deployment on Aug. 31, JCS and its CVW-9 flew more than 7,900 sorties and dropped nearly 80,000 pounds of ordnance in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On Oct. 7, 2008, JCS became the first aircraft carrier to successfully launch the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile while performing its qualification trials. Three months later, the aircraft carrier departed for another scheduled western Pacific deployment. After six months, the ship’s CVW-9 flew more than 7,250 sorties with a completion rate of 97 percent.
Two years later, JCS was back in the Fifth and Seventh Fleet areas of operation, deploying July 25, 2011. Five months later, on Dec. 18, 2011, the last command and control mission for U.S. forces in Iraq was flown by an E-2C Hawkeye from JCS’s Airborne Early Warning Squadron 112, which ended naval support for Operation New Dawn. The carrier strike group returned to Bremerton after its seven-month deployment on March 2, 2012, having flown more than 1,000 combat sorties.
It was a brief respite home. By Aug. 27, 2012 JCS was headed back to the U.S. Fifth and Seventh Fleet in support of a surge deployment. After spending 15 of the last 18 months on deployment, the JCS returned back to Bremerton May 3, 2013. The next month the ship entered a 14-month planned maintenance drydocking at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
SO WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
After leaving the drydock in April 2014, the ship has been participating in numerous trials and exercises to prepare for its upcoming deployment in early 2016.