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Sailors, Planning Keep Enterprise Safe from Irene

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Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), weathered Hurricane Irene Aug. 28, armed with only a skeleton crew and robust safety information.

While many Navy ships homeported in Norfolk got underway to avoid the storm, Enterprise was moved to Norfolk Naval Shipyard because the location was deemed safer for ships unable to get underway.

"The amount of planning that came together in such a short period of time and the flawless execution of our plan by our crew was amazing," said Senior Chief Logistics Specialist (SW/AW/SCW) Don Jones, the senior enlisted section leader during the storm. "Communication was key during the entire process."

The same capabilities that have made Enterprise an effective warship through more than 21 deployments throughout the past 50 years helped the ship weather the hurricane. Sailors on board cite effective communication as their best weapon.

"We kept in communication with the base and the other ships around us, but also kept communication lines open for our Sailors so they could stay in touch with loved ones," said Jones.

Throughout the storm, the ship stayed one step ahead of emergent issues by routing communications through satellites instead of relying on ground-based infrastructure. This advantage, along with the fact that the ship is designed to endure rough weather, made being on board relatively safe compared to being in a building ashore, especially at the waterline.

During the storm, Enterprise kept two teams of Sailors, called duty sections, on board in order to repair any leaks or damage. While aircraft carriers are designed to sustain heavy winds and rain, they usually do so under their own power at sea.

"Keeping two duty sections on board was extremely helpful," said Intelligence Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) John M. Vercelli.

"It takes a lot of work to keep a ship safe during a hurricane, and I'm glad that so many Sailors stepped up and did their duty without complaint," said Vercelli.

Enterprise also opened her doors for its temporary neighbor - aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). More than 300 Harry S. Truman Sailors had the option to stay aboard Enterprise because their ship's extended shipyard maintenance availability doesn't allow for overnight stays.

"We wanted to help our shipmates as much as possible," said Lt. Melissa E. Johnson, from Enterprise's Operations Department, who was on board keeping the crew informed about the status of the storm. "Since we had minimal crew on board, it was easy for us to make room."

The aircraft carrier is undergoing post-deployment maintenance and did not have full use of its propulsion systems when the storm began bearing down on the Hampton Roads area. Navy commanders decided to move the ship from its homeport at Naval Station Norfolk to the more insulated Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

"I had never been through a hurricane before, and I was glad that I felt so safe here on Enterprise," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Jacob R. Blackmore, from Indiana.

Blackmore stayed on the ship throughout the long hours during the storm.

"We don't have hurricanes in the Midwest, and I didn't really know what to expect, but being on this ship was the best option for me because Big 'E' is a tough ship," said Blackmore. "I barely felt the storm!"

Blackmore said that the storm preparations made all the difference.

"If I can take anything away from this experience it's that you should always prepare early for storms. That's how the ship managed to weather the storm unscathed, we as a crew began preparing as early as we could, and that's the best plan," said Blackmore.

Enterprise recently returned from its 21st deployment, where it served in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility, conducting missions from counter-piracy and counter-terrorism to more than 1,450 combat missions in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.

Enterprise will celebrate its 50th birthday Nov. 25 and kick-off a yearlong tribute to its 50 years of service before her scheduled decommissioning next fall.

Article by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nick C. Scott, USS Enterprise Public Affairs