By Emmanuel T. Erediano - firstname.lastname@example.org - Variety News Staff
ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN — Saipan reporters and CNMI officials boarded this Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier on Tuesday as part of the U.S. Navy’s embark program.
The aircraft carrier, which has some 5,000 personnel, was taking part in Operation Valiant Shield, a joint exercise of the various branches of the world’s most powerful military force.
The two-week-long biennial exercise started on Sept. 12 and aims to showcase the U.S. military’s maritime and strike capability from the Western Pacific and all the way to the Indian Ocean, according to the USS Ronald Reagan commanding officer, Capt. Buzz Donnelly.
While he was being interviewed, squadrons of F-18 Super Hornets and EA-18 Growlers had just gone airborne. These are supersonic and high performance jets.
“What you see unfolding right now is the midpoint of Valiant Shield 2016,” Donnelly told the reporters and representatives from the CNMI government.
“It is really our opportunity to come together with Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, and operate as one cohesive unit. Typically, we disaggregate or split up in conducting real-world operations throughout the entire Pacific region.”
AN E-2 HAWKEYE PREPARES FOR A CATAPULT-ASSISTED LAUNCH DURING VALIANT SHIELD 2016 ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN SOMEWHERE IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC ON TUESDAY. PHOTO BY EMMANUEL T. EREDIANO
Donnelly said Valiant Shield also includes an expeditionary strike group that involves amphibious operations by the Marine Corps.
The U.S. Marines are conducting training on Tinian and Guam from Sept. 12 to Sept. 23 as part of Valiant Shield 2016.
The 13-year-old, 1,092-foot long USS Ronald Reagan is the flagship of Carrier Strike Group Five home-ported at Yokosuka, Japan as part of the United States Seventh Fleet. It was named after America’s 40th president.
“Here in Valiant Shield, we are providing the strike capability for the U.S. Navy working with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard,” Donnelly said.
The USS Ronald Reagan, he added, is the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier and forward-deployed strike group. It is permanently deployed to the Seventh Fleet, and is always on station, he added.
The captain said he, the crew and Air Wing personnel typically spend 90 days out at sea, several times a year as a strike group that patrols the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean as necessary.
Like other U.S. military vessels, the USS Ronald Reagan is basically a floating city.
SAILORS PERFORM A ROUTINE CHECK ON MISSILES ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN DURING VALIANT SHIELD 2016 ON TUESDAY. PHOTO BY EMMANUEL T. EREDIANO
Assistant Public Affairs Officer ENS Rachel McMarr, who gave reporters a tour of the aircraft carrier, said they have a barbershop, a store, a newspaper, a TV station, a post office and churches for different denominations.
For its 5,000 personnel, the USS Ronald Reagan prepares 18,000 meals a day.
McMarr and Public Affairs Officer Lt. David Levy also introduced reporters to the air operations officer, Cmdr. Matt Tharp, whose station is manned 24 hours a day.
All the monitors at his station show what they are doing operation-wise at any given time of the day: which jet is going, which is coming back, and what their mission is.
And then there’s Lt. Cmdr. Freddie Handler whose overall responsibility is the aircraft movement on the ship — on the flight deck and the hangar bay just below it.
Said McMarr: “It’s exciting to be part of an aircraft carrier.”