Photo Info

Photo feature: On board ‘The Mighty Ike’ with Carrier Strike Group 2

By Matt Haskell

Published on: August 16, 2023
Estimated reading time 11 minutes, 40 seconds.

An exclusive look at operations on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, also known as The Mighty Ike, as Carrier Strike Group 2 performs a Composite Training Unit Exercise.

On June 30, Skies embarked on board the U.S. Navy’s flagship of Carrier Strike Group 2, CVN-69, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Affectionately referred to as “The Mighty Ike” or “The best damn ship in the Navy” by her crew, Ike was performing operations off the eastern U.S. Coast in support of the Strike Group’s participation in the Carrier Strike Group 4 Composite Training Unit Exercise, also known as COMPTUEX.

COMPTUEX is a multi-week pre-deployment exercise designed to certify the carrier, as well as fully integrate the entire strike group, in preparation for combat operations. During the training exercise, the carrier, sailors, supporting warships, and air wing are tested and graded through various battle-oriented exercises. During a COMPTUEX, the strike group is presented with a set of real-world scenarios set in a fictional and simulated battle space, allowing for real-world training with real-world risk.

During the exercise, personnel from Carrier Strike Group 4 trained, tested, and graded every mission set and tasking that Strike Group 2 could encounter while deployed, including components such as flight operations, damage control, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and surface warfare. Completing the exercise with a passing grade is a prerequisite for deployment. Once completed, the strike group is not only able to define its strengths, but its weaknesses and how to improve them. Matt Haskell Photo
The Ike is a powerhouse of a warship. The second of the Nimitz class of aircraft carriers, she was commissioned on Oct. 18, 1977. With a displacement of 101,713 long tons, the Ike is among the largest warships in the world — with an overall length of 1,098 feet. Powered by two Westinghouse nuclear reactors and driven by four steam turbines, the Ike is capable of speeds above 30 knots and has impressive maneuvering capabilities. Matt Haskell Photo
Crewed by approximately 3,500 sailors, with an additional 2,400 air wing personnel when embarked with up to 90 aircraft, the Ike is a small floating American city. Matt Haskell Photo
For flight operations, the embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 consisted of a multitude of mission sets and capabilities. Aboard the Ike was a compliment of four F/A-18 Super Hornet squadrons serving the fighter attack mission, consisting of VFA-32 Swordsmen, VFA-83 Rampagers, VFA-105 Gunslingers, and VFA-131 Wildcats. Matt Haskell Photo
Supporting the airborne electronic warfare component was VAQ-130 Zappers flying the EA-18G Growler. VAW-123 Screwtops supported the Airborne Early Warning and Command and Control mission in the E-2C Hawkeye. Matt Haskell Photo
Also embarked on board were two helicopter squadrons: HSC-7 Dusty Dogs and HSM-74 Swamp Foxes. Both squadrons are utilized for a multitude of mission sets. HSC-7 utilizes the MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter for logistical support to include vertical replenishment, as well as combat search-and-rescue, anti-surface warfare, and other combat support missions. Matt Haskell Photo
HSM-74 utilizes the MH-60R version of the Seahawk. The “Romeo” Seahawk is utilized primarily for ASW, surveillance, and electromagnetic warfare. Equipped with advanced sonar sensors and radar, as well as torpedo capability, it is a highly versatile platform that can also perform the mission of the “Sierra” Seahawk if necessary. Matt Haskell Photo
Supporting these squadrons is an army of color-coded sailors operating on the flight deck and performing maintenance on the ship’s hangar deck. Using these colors is critical to ensuring everyone is distinguishable and performing the jobs they need to be performing. Matt Haskell Photo
Red jerseys are used to signify the ordnancemen responsible for loading and unloading munitions, but also are used for the deck crash and salvage crews. Matt Haskell Photo
Yellow jerseys are responsible for the safe movement of aircraft throughout the flight deck, serving as aircraft directors and catapult and arresting gear officers. Matt Haskell Photo
Green jerseys signify maintenance and ground support; blue signifies plane handlers and tractor drivers; and purple jerseys are responsible for fueling aircraft. Matt Haskell Photo
Brown jerseys represent plane captains, who are responsible for the overall safety and integrity of the aircraft. Lastly, white jerseys signify quality, safety, medical, and landing signal officers, who direct the landings on board the carrier. Matt Haskell Photo
The Ike recently suffered throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, like many other warships, with her crew performing back-to-back deployments from January to August of 2020, then again from February to July of 2021, all without port calls. This inevitability resulted in low morale and a tired crew. Assuming command of the ship on March 23, 2023, Capt Chris “Chowdah” Hill’s first goal was to improve the morale of the ship and her crew. Adapting what he calls, “The Way of the Warrior Sailor,” Hill did just that. Matt Haskell Photo

“I need everyone to have high morale, and we’re getting there. Once that happens, other things will follow. Greatness and excellence will follow from that. By doing COMPTUEX, the most advanced exercise involving the entire strike group, if we can do that successfully . . . we will in fact be the best damn ship in the world. The best damn ship strike group in the Navy. So, it’s a mindset.”

Capt Chris “Chowdah” Hill
The catapult and arresting gear sailors on board the Ike use a weight board to verify the weight of the aircraft with the aircrew and pass the information to the shooters. This information is critical to the catapult system, determining how much steam is necessary to shoot the aircraft off the deck. During the COMPTUEX, one catapult sailor allowed a reactor sailor to use the weight board and help launch an aircraft from the deck. Actions such as these show how important morale is while on board a warship for any length of time. Matt Haskell Photo

At the end of July, the Ike and her strike group successfully completed the COMPTUEX exercise and returned to port at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, fully certified for deployment.

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