On board the USS John C. Stennis— Landing aboard the flight deck of this nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, you can hear the roar of fighter jets taking off. The Stennis looks every inch of its 4.5 acres — a warship at war.
F-18 warplanes sped off to launch airstrikes from Taliban targets in Afghanistan to ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria, despite President Trump’s declaration of victory and talk of a troop withdrawal of all 2,000 troops in Syria.
“We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly, we’ve taken back the land, and now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” he said.
But the group commander said there’s been no let-up from the Stennis.
“It doesn’t change our tactics at all. We are given missions to do and we fill those missions,” said Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer. “The pace of us, since we arrived, has been pretty steady.”
The Stennis is more like a floating city. There are more than 5,000 sailors servicing 70 tactical aircraft, primarily providing cover for U.S. forces on the battlefield. As long as there are American boots on the ground, there will be U.S. air support overhead.
The return of a U.S. carrier to the Persian Gulf is also seen as a show of force to nearby Iran, which deployed vessels in December to shadow the Stennis.
“When you put that big chess piece down in a certain place and part of the world it means you’re serious,” said Capt. J. Patrick Thompson.
That became apparent as we watched dozens of F-18s catapult off the deck, returning hours later to a dead stop pilots describe as “a controlled crash.”
In the engine room, a system that allows jets to land on the aircraft carrier has to work as many as 75 times a day and well into the night. While the sailors are more than capable of keeping up the pace, no one can be certain what’s on the horizon.
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