USS John C. Stennis back at home
(CNN) -- The USS John C. Stennis and its 5,000 crew members returned to home port in San Diego, California, Tuesday after a strenuous six-month stint in the Arabian Sea.
In November, the 24-story Nimitz-class carrier, the largest class of carriers in the world, deployed two months ahead of schedule to provide a respite for another craft serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. The operation was part of the U.S.-led strikes on al Qaeda in Afghanistan in response to the September 11 terror attacks on the United States that killed about 3,000 people.
The Stennis battle group included 10 U.S. and Canadian ships and submarines, plus more than 80 tactical aircraft, and 8,500 sailors and Marines.
"...This is an emotional, long-awaited-for day by the 5,000 sailors and Marines onboard the John C. Stennis and the other ships in the battle group," Rear Adm. James Zortman, the battle group commander, said. "There's another eight ships that are spread out across the Pacific; some pulling in today, some over the next week to ten days. And there'll be families, there'll be friends, there'll be tears, there'll be hugs, the whole gamut of human emotions."
Fighter jets aboard the floating airport carried painted reminders on their tail fins of what drove their mission. Where pilot's names usually appeared, some aircraft listed the names of police officers and firefighters who died at the World Trade Center when hijacked passenger planes leveled the towers. Others donned sketched images of the twin towers or the Pentagon, where another hijacked plane killed more than 100 people.
The early stages of war demanded that the crew work during the dangers of dark. They slept through the day, and at night hit the flight deck where jets could blow them overboard and propellers threatened them.
With 5,000 sailors aboard, the ship's galley prepared about 19,000 meals each day of its six-month trip. Cooks prepared more than 620 pounds of meat and 2,160 eggs daily and served 900 pound of fresh fruit and 600 gallons of milk.
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