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Navy carrier strike group brings 7,000 sailors to Oahu

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 3:30 p.m. HST, Feb 17, 2012

About 7,000 sailors pulled into Pearl Harbor for leave with the John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike group following a more than six-month deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific.

The Stennis and its air wing, cruiser Mobile Bay and destroyers Pinckney, Kidd, Dewey and Wayne E. Meyer are stopping in Hawaii en route to their home ports on the West Coast, the Navy said.

The destroyer Wayne E. Meyer arrived Thursday, and the other ships came in today, officials said.

The 1,092-foot-long Stennis left Bremerton, Wash., on July 25 for a deployment that saw it launch fighter sorties in support of ground troops on Afghanistan. It also operated in the Persian Gulf.

The carrier's air wing flew the Navy's final air mission over Iraq Dec. 18, effectively ending naval support for Operation New Dawn.

From there the Stennis transited the Strait of Hormuz, with Iran issuing a warning "not to return to the Persian Gulf."

Another carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, entered the Gulf on Jan. 22 and passed through the Strait of Hormuz Tuesday with Iranian gunboats making their presence known.

"Flying the last Navy air mission in Iraq was a historic achievement for all of us," Capt. Dale Horan, commander of Carrier Air Wing 9 on Stennis, was quoted in a Navy news story as saying.

"Everyone in this strike group played a part in making that happen and it's a part of history we will always share," Horan said.

In January, after transitioning to supporting operations in Afghanistan, the Stennis strike group thwarted an attempted pirate attack on a Bahamian-flagged cargo vessel, then freed a group of Iranian mariners held captive by the same crew of suspected pirates, the Navy said.

Ships with the Stennis strike group stopped in Port Klang, Malaysia, and Jebil Ali, United Arab Emirates.

In the Western Pacific, the strike group conducted several readiness exercises with partner countries in the region and also made visits to Singapore and the Philippines.

The air wing flew 13,389 sorties in support of Afghanistan and Iraq missions, the Navy said.

Early in the deployment, the strike group conducted more than 200 hours training in Hawaii waters.

"The Hawaii Training Range Complex provided realistic and challenging training opportunities for our air wing," Horan said.

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