After being involved in the Desert Fox as the main “airbase” for the bombing operations over Iraq, the USS Enterprise headed along with its Battle Group, towards the colder waters of the Adriatic Sea, to join the 6th Fleet and to take over the new duties as leading unit of Operation Joint Guard and Eagle Eye for the respect of the Peace in the Balkans along with the USS Detroit (AOE 4), the USS Miami (SSN 755) and the USS Nicholson (DD 982). Before entering the new theatre of operations the Big “E” made a port visit in the Tyrrhenian Sea to Livorno (Leghorn) some 200 miles N of Rome. Livorno used to be visited by US Navy warships in the past, especially in the Cold War era, when the Russian Navy with its carriers, ships and bombers daily overflying international waters, compelled the US to keep a strong naval presence in the Med and the ships refueled at both Naples, 6th Fleet Command, at Livorno or La Maddalena in Sardinia, where the nuclear submarines are still hosted. As the Russian power at sea disappeared, the visits at this port became more sporadic and the Navy began to refuel in the largest port of Cannes, France.
The carrier spent a week in the bay of the small Italian harbour, arriving on Jan 27th and departing to the working area off the Albanian coasts on Feb 6th as the diplomatic relationships seemed to worsen and the risk of a massive attack against Serbian targets in Kosovo became a reality.
Support to the ship throughout her navigation in the Med was provided daily by COD (Carrier On-board Delivery) flights of the CH-53 and C-2 Greyhound of the VRC-40 at NAS Sigonella that either trap on the deck or deploy to the near Italian Air Force base of Pisa, that is only a few kilometers away from Livorno. Those were the only flight activities for those days.
When I visited her, at first glance the warship seemed very crowed despite the “New York Times” claims there are little more than 4,600 men of the 5,000 requested. The majority of the people on board was very young, with an average age of 23 among the crew (officers, chiefs, sailors, Air Wing personnel).
The mighty carrier had the Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) with its 72 aircraft on board, the majority of which were on the 1,123 feet long deck, clustered by type to make maintenance easier. The leading and most fascinating was the Tomcat, on board in its latest version, the F-14B+. Almost all the “Bombcats” of the VF-32 “Swordsmen”, CAG one comprised, carried a LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red system for Night) pod under their starboard wing pylon and had large war markings, memories of the 70 hours of nightly strikes using LGBs (Laser Guided Bomb) sustained in the first nights of the Desert Fox on Dec. 16, 1998. In fact this was the first Tomcat squadron to ever use PGM (Precision Guided Munitions) in combat as in 1996 the VF-103 on board the Big “E” was the first squadron to carry the LANTIRN pod during its tour of duty enforcing the no-fly zones in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Operation Joint Endeavor) and Iraq (Operation Southern Watch). Particularly interesting was the “AC-101” who had a large nose-art, untypical for a Navy fighter. Many stylized “Paveways” symbols were also painted on the nose of the Hornets of the 3 wings equipped with the F/A-18C: the VFA-105 “Gunslingers”, VFA-37 “Bulls” and VMFA-312 “Checkerboards”. All the Prowlers flown by VAQ-130 showed HARM (High speed Anti Radiation Missile) launches. As the only aircraft in US forces inventories to be specialized in electronic-warfare, the Prowler plays a major role providing protection to the striking packages, by killing radars and jamming electronic data-links and communications of the enemy nets. Four S-3B of the VS-22 were on board, undertaking minor repairs.
ES-3As of the VQ-6, the electronic version of the Viking, were kept out of sight.
Unfortunately only two CAG birds had special paintings, the F-14 of the VF-32 “AC-100” as said, and the F-18 “AC-300” of the VFA-37 probably because the past and future commitments of the USS Enterprise don’t leave enough spare time for these funny activities neither when many miles away from the “hot” areas.
© David Cenciotti