POULSBO — When the war on terrorism was declared soon after Sept. 11, 2001 the very first front lines weren’t in a trench or bunker — they were on the ship deck of the USS Carl Vinson.
The Bremerton-based Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier was America’s initial “hammer” to deliver enormous blows against enemy positions and activity in Afghanistan and its entrance into “Operation Enduring Freedom” truly set the stage for the theatre of battle, according to Capt. Rick Wren.
The Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce got a better perception on the Vinson’s role in the war Thursday as Capt. Wren and his intelligence team discussed the impact and aftermath of 9-11 overseas.
Just prior to Sept. 11, the crew of the CVN 70 was operating off the southern tip of India making sure sanctions created during the Gulf War were being adhered to, and paying little attention to Afghanistan. That situation changed in a flash, Capt. Wren said.
“We watch CNN (News) just like you do,” he added, noting that it took him 30 seconds or so to grasp the fact that the “special effects” he was seeing at the World Trade Center were actually real.
“All of a sudden, two and a half decades of doing this began to sink in,” said Wren, who was basically serving as interim captain of the Vinson at the time. He took over full command on Oct. 6 and had been in charge about 33 hours before ordering the first F/A 18 Hornet strike from the ship.
“It was a validation,” Wren said, noting that during Operation Enduring Freedom the crew of the USS Carl Vinson broke every wartime record that had previously been set by the Navy.
The sailors basically worked 71 days non-stop and when the dust cleared, the Vinson’s pilots had dropped over two million tons of ordinance on enemy targets.
“The war sort of ended when we left,” Wren said, adding proudly that his ship did not incur a single casualty during the attacks. “There are thousands of sailors that will one day bounce their grandkids on their knees and tell them about the USS Carl Vinson and the war on terrorism.”
Intelligence Officer Tim Duvall said the success was due largely to an “all-star team” comprised not only of U.S. war ships but several from other countries as well. Duvall’s “sanitized version” of the attacks wasn’t so sanitized and showed frame after frame of before-and-after shots of enemy targets in Afghanistan.
“We were just shocked and horrified,” Duvall said of 9-11, adding that even so, the intelligence community quickly agreed that the attack had “al Quida’s fingerprints all over it.”
“We like to think that we were the hammer in the hand of President Bush,” he explained.
Taking extreme precautions not to make the same mistake the Russians did during their bloody 10-year campaign against Afghanistan in the 1980s, the United States forces
relied heavily on technology to eradicate enemy targets. Reconnaissance was
key, Duvall said before showing a photo — shot from about 25,000 feet above Afghanistan — but clearly depicting a man with two camels.
Targets were marked either by fly-overs or by special operations forces on the ground and taken out by Hornets, F-14 Tomcats and B-1 and B-2 bombers. Explaining how such raids had changed since World War II, Duvall said accuracy of a run back then put the ordinance roughly 1,500 feet from the target — meaning that in most cases an average of 9,000 bombs were needed to take out an enemy position. Technology translates to better accuracy and during Operation Enduring Freedom, similar strong holds could be wiped out with one bomb which can no be programmed to land within 10 feet of a desired target.
In all, Duvall said, USS Carl Vinson pilots logged 24,905 flight hours, conducted over 4,200 combat missions and dropped some 2,020,000 pounds of ordinance on Afghanistan.
Why did the crew push itself so hard?
Two reasons, Capt. Wren explained.
“The vision of 9-11, just the vision,” he said. “I never had to tell a sailor to do his or her job. If anything, I had to hold them back.”
“The other thing was the incredible outpouring of support,” Wren added, noting that the USS Carl Vinson received so many letters and banners from the United States that the crew had the ship’s interior pretty much plastered with the decoration from bow to stern.
“Your support was absolutely overwhelming but don’t let it stop with the Carl Vinson — it’s not over because the Carl Vinson is home,” he remarked.