My time aboard the USS JFK

This is excerpted from: Naval History and Heritage Command, and chronicles the ship during the time I was assigned to ATKRON 75, deploying aboard the JFK.


…On 2 August 1988, John F. Kennedy departed Norfolk, bound for the Med; she recovered CVW-3 (VF-14 and VF-32, VA-75, VS-22, VMA-533, VAQ-130, VAW-126, and HS-7) between 2 and 4 August.  She transited the Strait of Gibraltar as she began the mid watch on 14 August, and ultimately, on 16 August, relieved Dwight D. Eisenhower just west of Corsica.

After transiting the Strait of Messina, and then participating in National Week ’88, the carrier visited Naples (21-25 August 1988), where John F. Kennedy’s crewmen pooled their resources to repair a home for unwed mothers. On 25 August, the carrier returned to sea for four days, and then paused with a port visit to Alexandria.

From 4-8 September 1988, John F. Kennedy conducted Sea Wind off the coast of Alexandria, as efforts to further cooperation between the Egyptian and U.S. governments saw 6th Fleet elements exercising with the Egyptian Navy and Air Force. During the evolution, both forces conducted simulated low-level strikes into Wadi Natrun, ASW training with Egyptian Romeo-class submarines, dissimilar air combat training with Egyptian F-16, Mirages, and Fishbeds, electronic warfare training with Egyptian EW/GCI sites, and cross-training Egyptian/U.S. E-2C aircrew.

Following Sea Wind, the carrier visited Toulon, beginning on 13 September 1988, then sailed to participate in Display Determination ’88 (22 September-10 October), maneuvers that involved war-at-sea exercises, overland low-level simulated strikes, and air-to-air engagements. Following Display Determination ’88, John F. Kennedy visited Antalya, Turkey (10-17 October) and Tunis, Tunisia (21-24 October). From 24-26 October, she participated in exercises off the Tunisian coast, operating with naval and air elements of the Tunisian armed forces conducting war-at-sea strikes, simulated overland strikes at the Ras Engelah range, and defensive air combat training with Tunisian Northrop F-5’s. That training having been accomplished, John F. Kennedy visited Palma (28 October-4 November).

John F. Kennedy re-visited Naples (14-18 November 1988) before she returned to a slate of active operations that included exercises, on 22 November, with the French carrier Foch. The joint French and U.S. Navy exercise consisted of long-range targeting scenarios, followed by a war-at-sea strike. The two carriers’ air wings also conducted dissimilar air combat training concurrent with the war-at-sea strike. The next day, John F. Kennedy anchored at Marseille, celebrating Thanksgiving there; families back home, meanwhile, viewed the premier of a cable video production “Young Peacekeepers,” a documentary that focused on the young men working on John F. Kennedy’s flight deck. 

John F. Kennedy departed Marseille on 27 November 1988, and from 1 to 10 December, participated in African Eagle ’88, a combined USN, USAF and Moroccan exercise off the north Moroccan coast that featured simulated low-level strikes against several inland targets, war-at-sea strikes against Moroccan patrol boats, and dissimilar air combat training against USAF F-16 and Moroccan Mirages. Following African Eagle ’88, John F. Kennedy anchored at Palma on 15 December. On 20 December, she headed for Cannes, arriving on the morning of 23 December; she celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve there.

On New Year’s Day 1989, John F. Kennedy sailed from Cannes, bound for Haifa. Three days later, on 4 January 1989, during the second of three cycles of scheduled operations that day, her airborne Hawkeyes and the ship’s F-14 CAP detected, at about 78 nautical miles, two Libyan MiG-23B Floggers from Al Bumbah. Other Libyan aircraft had been observed and monitored earlier, but had not behaved aggressively, inevitably returning to their base. These two MiGs continued to close at high speed, however, accelerating first from 430 to 450, and then from 450 to 500, knots. The Tomcats, from VF-32, embarked on a series of pre-planned, non-provocative maneuvers, changing course and altitude in order to establish offset. The Floggers, however, countered the F-14s’ maneuvers with their own, re-establishing “head-on forward quarter weapons release” situations. As the Libyan planes closed at high speed within range to release their own weapons, the Tomcats, one flown by Lieutenant Herman C. Cook, Jr., with Lieutenant Commander Steven P. Collins as NFO, the other by Lieutenant Commander Joseph B. Connelly and Commander Leo F. Enwright, Jr., engaged the MiGs, firing in self-defense, and splashed the two Floggers with AIM-7 and AIM-9 missiles in the central Med north of Tobruk in international waters.  As a CVW-3 chronicler laconically summed it up: “USN – 2, Libya – 0.”

John F. Kennedy reached Haifa on 6 January 1989 to what her chronicler called a “heroes welcome,” news coverage of the MiG kills having proved extremely heavy, necessitating additional 6th Fleet public affairs people to handle the sharply increased media interest.  The carrier sailed on 9 January to conduct Exercise Juniper Hawk with Israeli forces for two days, then headed back to the central Med.

John F. Kennedy transited the Strait of Messina o 14 January 1989 to facilitate a turnover with Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-74) in the Tyrrhenian Sea, as the latter began her maiden Med deployment. Following that evolution, John F. Kennedy outchopped from the Middle Sea on 22 January, and reached Norfolk on 1 February, where Secretary of the Navy William L. Ball III, flew out to the carrier to congratulate the crew and to pass along a note of thanks for a “job well done” from the newly elected President (and former naval aviator) George H.W. Bush.

During the month of February 1989, John F. Kennedy enjoyed a 30-day post-deployment stand-down period with their families. The beginning of March proved similarly uneventful as harsh weather and over 20 inches of snow prevented the ship from being moved to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a three-month industrial period. On 11 March, the weather finally broke and the carrier transited to the shipyard in balmy, spring-like conditions; subsequently, on 27 May 1989, Captain Herbert A. Browne, Jr. relieved Captain Wisely as commanding officer in a ceremony held in Trophy Park, on the grounds of the shipyard, guest access being severely restricted due to the security regulations in the industrial area. John F. Kennedy completed her yard work early and returned to Norfolk Naval Station on 14 June.

John F. Kennedy spent the remainder of June 1989 testing shipboard systems in port and at sea. Following a festive Fourth of July celebration in her homeport, she then sailed on 7 July 1989 to serve as a ready deck for Training Command carquals in the Gulf of Mexico. On 11 July, Rear Admiral Jeremy D. Taylor, Chief of Naval Training, flew out to John F. Kennedy to observe training carquals. Having completed her training, the carrier returned to Norfolk on 22 July after successfully completing over 1,200 traps.

On 23 July 1989, John F. Kennedy hosted Vice Admiral Jerome L. Johnson, Commander, 2nd Fleet, as he, in turn, hosted Vice Admiral Igor Vladimirovich Kasatonov, First Deputy Commander in Chief, Northern Fleet, and an entourage that included the commanding officers of Soviet warships Marshal Ustinov, Otlichny, and Gasanov. They dined in John F. Kennedy’s flag mess, and then enjoyed a sunset parade in the hangar bay.

John F. Kennedy left Norfolk in her wake on 10 August 1989 to return to the Gulf of Mexico for more training and carquals, upon completion of which, on 21 August, she moored along the Inland Waterway at Port Everglades. The next day, during general visiting, several visitors received minor injuries when they were startled by the lifting of a pressure relief valve on the ship’s number two elevator hydraulic system. Although several visitors fell to the non-skid surface of the elevator in the panic, only two people required transportation to local hospitals for treatment. John F. Kennedy completed her otherwise uneventful visit on 24 July.

More training and carquals followed, after which John F. Kennedy did not return to Norfolk until 1 September 1989. At month’s end, on 30 September, she hosted Coral Sea (CV-43), on the homecoming that accompanied her last deployment  (Coral Sea would be decommissioned on 26 April 1990 and would be sold for scrap three years later).

John F. Kennedy stood out on 3 October 1989 to conduct exercises, among which were VS-22 ASW operations against the attack submarine Key West (SSN-722) on 4 and 5 October. On 6 and 7 October, however, while en route from Norfolk to Portland, CVW-3 lost two aircraft in separate mishaps. In the first, during the first watch on 6 October, during night flight operations, a VF-32 Tomcat (Modex AC 200) impacted the port jet blast deflector.  Lieutenants Russell C. Walker, the pilot, and Robert S. Schrader, the NFO, both ejected safely from the F-14 and were recovered unhurt by an HS-7 helo. The second mishap ended less happily: on 7 October, an S-3B Viking (Modex AC 710) (BuNo 159759) from VS-22 crashed soon after launching from number one catapult late in the afternoon watch, with all four crewmen ejecting. Rescuers picked up Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 2d Class Tracy S. Mann in stable condition, but Lieutenant Douglas G. Gray and Lieutenant (j.g.) David S. Jennings, USNR, perished; their bodies were recovered. Searchers never found Lieutenant John T. Hartman, USNR.

John F. Kennedy then visited Portland (13-16 October 1989) after which she carried out a Tiger Cruise that concluded at Norfolk on 18 October, from which she operated locally for the remainder of the year, interspersing operational periods with in-port upkeep. On 11 December, the carrier lay moored at Naval Station Norfolk where she made preparations for a possible role in President Bush’s recently declared “War against Drugs.” Throughout the holiday season, John F. Kennedy loaded supplies and prepared for deployment to the Caribbean, expecting to engage in counter-narcotic operations off Colombia immediately following the turn of the New Year.

John F. Kennedy began operations for the new year on 4 January 1990, but she had not been underway for more than a week when her deployment plans changed, Caribbean anti-drug detection and monitoring operations being postponed indefinitely because of what HS-7’s historian termed “international and regional sensitivities.”  She conducted advanced phase exercises under CarGru 4. On 16 January, the carrier moored at Mayport, and there hosted the change of command ceremony in which Rear Admiral Richard C. Macke relieved Rear Admiral William A. Dougherty, Jr., as ComCarGru 4 and Commander, Carrier Striking Force.

John F. Kennedy left Mayport on 23 January 1990 for more advance phase training and on 31 January joined FleetEx (Fleet Exercise) 1-90.  She operated in those evolutions that spanned the waters from the middle of the Caribbean to those north of Puerto Rico, and then joined forces with Dwight D. Eisenhower to conduct ‘round-the-clock flight operations against a simulated “fjord.”

The exercise concluded on 5 February 1990 and John F. Kennedy headed back to Norfolk. Off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, however, she encountered heavy seas that removed the dome of CIWS Mt. 22 and battered some of the bow catwalks enough to require their replacement upon arrival at her homeport.

Reaching Norfolk on 9 February 1990, John F. Kennedy then underwent repairs and tests into the spring.  During that time, she received the installation of the TFCC Information Management System (TIMS) that brought a greater command and control capability to the ship.  In events of a ceremonial nature, the ship hosted Enterprise (CVN-65) as the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier shifted her homeport to Norfolk on 16 March.

On 27 April 1990, John F. Kennedy headed to sea for exercises off the Virginia capes and Jacksonville. On 6 May, after arriving in Puerto Rican operating areas, John F. Kennedy began a war-at-sea exercise with the French carrier Foch. The exercise concluded on 8 May and the warship steamed for Norfolk, arriving 11 May. Six days later, on 17 May 1990, the ship hosted the change of command ceremony at which Admiral Leon A. Edney relieved Admiral Frank B. Kelso as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic. John F. Kennedy remained moored for the remainder of May.

John F. Kennedy headed for the Virginia capes on 1 June 1990 for more exercises, then proceeded to the Puerto Rico operating area, where she acted as Orange (adversary) forces for the Saratoga battle group. At the conclusion of the exercise on 18 June, she set a course for New York City, arriving there on 21 June. Nearly 50,000 visitors toured the ship during Fleet Week ’90, after which time she put to sea on the 26th to conduct a week of operations off the North Atlantic coast, during which time she embarked Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) producer Alan Goldberg and Mitch Weitzner and a crew who filmed a “48 Hours” feature, that would air on 26 July 1990. The piece documented the ship’s operations, told the story of life on board a “super carrier,” and reviewed pro and con arguments for large-deck carriers. The CBS crew left on 29 June.

John F. Kennedy reached Boston on 2 July 1990. While Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Mayor Raymond Flynn welcomed her, a small group of Greenpeace protesters in Zodiac boats proved less hospitable, attempting to “escort” her into port. Navy supporters, however, interposed their craft between the environmentalists and the carrier, and she moored at the Subaru Piers about one mile from the center of the city.  Over 130,000 visitors from the region visited the carrier as Boston hosted the Coast Guard’s Bicentennial and the historic frigate Constitution’s turn-around ceremony of the Fourth of July. On 9 July, John F. Kennedy embarked about 600 Tigers for the return trip to Norfolk, arriving two days later.

Events in the Persian Gulf, however, dashed John F. Kennedy’s hopes for uneventful, routine, operations that were to be capped by an overhaul scheduled to begin in January of the following year, when, on 2 August 1990, 0200 local time, 100,000 Iraqi troops massed on the border of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s leader, seething over Kuwait’s insistence on compensation for Iraq’s unpaid war debt from the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), it’s overproduction of oil, and claiming evidence that the Kuwaitis were slant drilling into the Rumaila oil field, ordered them to invade. Iraq deposed Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah and established a puppet government.

That same day, President Bush joined world leaders in condemning the invasion. A massive diplomatic effort to force Iraq to withdraw her troops ensued, as U.N. Security Council Resolution 660 called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces. The next day, the United States and Soviet Union jointly denounced Iraq’s invasion of her neighbor. On 6 August, Iraq cut off its oil shipments through one of Turkey’s pipelines, shifting the focus of the crisis to Saudi Arabia, the major remaining outlet for Iraq’s petroleum production. That same day, U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney met with Saudi King Fahd to discuss the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. Also on 6 August, the Pentagon gave President Bush a proposal for a multinational naval force, which included Soviet ships, to enforce the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq made earlier that day if diplomatic efforts failed. Dwight D. Eisenhower proceeded from the eastern Mediterranean through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea; Independence began maneuvers in the North Arabian Sea. The following day, 7 August, President Bush ordered U.S. military aircraft and troops to Saudi Arabia after King Fahd approved the deployment of a multinational force to defend his country against a possible Iraqi invasion from the Saudi border with Kuwait. Saratoga and the battleship Wisconsin (BB-64) sailed that day for a previously scheduled deployment to the eastern Med. Operation Desert Shield had begun.

On 10 August 1990, John F. Kennedy received “short-fused” orders to “load up and get underway.” She commenced her “loadout” for her Desert Shield deployment and began the loadout of CVW-3 the next day; on 13 August, she embarked Rear Admiral Riley D. Mixson, ComCarGru 2. Two days later, she recovered the aircraft of CVW-3 (VF-14 and VF-32, VA-46, VA-72, and VA-75, VS-22, VAQ-130, VAW-126 and HS-7) and got underway, standing out for local operations off the Virginia capes. After conducting war-at-sea defensive evolutions with the 2nd Fleet, being joined by her battle group (guided missile cruisers Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), San Jacinto (CG-56), and Mississippi (CGN-40), destroyer Moosbrugger (DD-980), frigate Thomas C. Hart (FF-1092), guided missile frigate Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58), fast combat support ship Seattle, and combat stores ship Sylvania (AFS-2)) the ship hosted a post-exercise conference on 22 August before beginning the voyage to the Med.  

John F. Kennedy, accompanied by Mississippi, sprinted ahead of the rest of the battle group and passed into the Mediterranean on 30 August 1990 where Commander, 6th Fleet, briefers met the ship to provide the battle group deployment schedule, although, as the carrier’s chronicler later noted wryly, the schedule changed before the briefers even left the ship! Consequently, John F. Kennedy anchored in Augusta Bay on 1 September, for turnover with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rear Admiral Mixson, ComCarGru 2, assumed command of TF 60, and John F. Kennedy stood into the central Med to join Dwight D. Eisenhower for National Week ’90 exercises.

On 4 September 1990, John F. Kennedy took over as the Mediterranean carrier. Six days later, she anchored off Alexandria; the visit lasted for only three days, however, due to Iraqi overtures. The warship soon sailed once more; she transited the Suez Canal on 14 September and stood into the Red Sea. The next day, she joined Saratoga. The two carriers operated together for the next two days before John F. Kennedy assumed the watch in the Red Sea while Saratoga moved to the Med.

Two weeks passed without any major happenings on the carrier. Then, on 26 September 1990, an SH-3H Sea King from HS-7 (side number 610) splashed several miles from the ship after it lost power in one engine. The crew and passengers were rescued without injury by helo and motor whaleboat crews.

Throughout the rest of September and October, the carrier continued to exercise at general quarters. Aircraft launched nearly every day and conducted training sorties over Saudi Arabia. On 27 October, John F. Kennedy held a turnover with Saratoga and headed back to the Suez Canal. On 30 October, the carrier conducted a night transit to Gaeta, anchoring on 1 November.

While anchored in Gaeta, John F. Kennedy hosted the 6th Fleet change of command ceremony with Secretary of the Navy Lawrence Garrett III, as the guest speaker. Immediately following the ceremony and reception, the carrier weighed anchor and steamed south. Due to the situation in the Persian Gulf, the cancellation of her scheduled call at Naples, and the requirement for her to be within 72 hours steaming time of the Red Sea, John F. Kennedy visited Gezelbache, Turkey (7-14 November 1990), then got underway for Antalya, Turkey.  En route, a National Broadcasting Company (NBC) news team recorded interviews for “The Today Show.” The ship arrived at Antalya on 19 November, just in time for Thanksgiving.

John F. Kennedy sailed from Antalya on 28 November 1990; the following day, 29 November, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 678 authorizing “member states cooperating with the Government of Kuwait to use all necessary means to uphold and implement the Security Council Resolution 660,” calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait, “and all subsequent relevant Resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.” The deadline for Iraq would be 15 January 1991.  

On 30 November 1990, John F. Kennedy sailed for the Suez Canal. On 2 December, just after midnight, the warship made her third transit of the waterway during that deployment. She entered the Red Sea on 3 December and began turnover duties with Saratoga. The two carriers operated together and conducted simulated strikes on targets in western Saudi Arabia. Royal Air Force Vice Marshall William J. Wratten and Wing Commander Mick Richardson visited John F. Kennedy on 4 December from Tobuk, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the conduct of an air war with Iraq.

Captain John P. Gay relieved Captain Browne as commanding officer of John F. Kennedy on 7 December 1990. Rear Admiral Mixson, Commander, TG 150.5, on hand for the ceremony, presented Captain Browne with the Legion of Merit. This change of command ceremony proved unique in John F. Kennedy’s history as it was held while the ship was underway in the Red Sea. This was the first change of command ceremony conducted in the khaki working uniform with ball caps.

Media representatives from the Joint Information Bureau in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, flew out to John F. Kennedy on 13 December 1990 to discuss morale and holiday plans with the Sailors. Representatives from BBC-TV, the Associated Press, United Press International, WBZ (Boston) Radio, Independent Radio News, U.S. News and World Report, and Reuters stayed on board for two days.

After conducting several small-scale exercises, John F. Kennedy entered port in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the morning of 29 December 1990, thus becoming the first U.S. aircraft carrier to visit Saudi Arabia. The Saudis hospitably set up a bank of 100 telephones in a warehouse across the pier from where the carrier lay moored, from which the men could call their loved ones.

On New Year’s Day 1991, Vice President Dan Quayle paid a four-hour visit to John F. Kennedy, to demonstrate national solidarity with the forces deployed in Desert Shield and spoke to the sailors in the hangar bay of the ship. The next day, the carrier got underway from Jeddah to return to the Red Sea operating area and conducted a passing-at-sea exercise named Camelot with the Royal Saudi Arabian Navy and Air Force. Together, they trained in surface, sub-surface, and air warfare, in addition to underway replenishment, live firing, and shipping interdiction.

John F. Kennedy braced herself for the prospects of war. The training and practice runs became more intense when on 13 January 1991, word reached the ship that hostilities with Iraq were perceived as inevitable with pre-emptive strikes from Iraq probable. In response to this alert, John F. Kennedy increased her level of preparedness and set material condition zebra main deck and below. 

Two days later, on 15 January 1991, the dialogue between the future combatants took an ominous tone. White House Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater warned that military action “could occur at any point after midnight 15 January Eastern Standard Time… Any moment after the 15th is borrowed time.”  French Prime Minister Michel Rochard lamented “there is a fatal moment when one must act. This moment has, alas, arrived.” Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nassif Jassim, responding to pleas to withdraw Iraqi forces from Kuwait, dashed hopes for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. “Leave Kuwait?” he asked. “Kuwait is a province of Iraq and beyond discussion.” That same day, on board John F. Kennedy, the crew continued working up for strikes against Iraqi forces in the Red Sea, waiting for Iraq’s answer to the 15 January 1991 deadline.

Saddam Hussein’s forces did not budge. On 16 January 1991, 1650 Eastern Standard Time, a squadron of F-15E fighter-bombers took off from their base in central Saudi Arabia, and began hitting their targets in Kuwait and Iraq before 1900 Eastern Standard Time. At 2100 Eastern Standard Time, President Bush addressed the nation. Desert Shield was over and the liberation of Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm, had begun.

Before her first strikes were launched, Rear Admiral Mixson, Commander Red Sea Force, announced over John F. Kennedy’s 1MC the launch schedule that would commence the following day in less than ten hours. He congratulated the ship for being able to carry out the President’s orders and participate in air strikes on Iraq, strikes that John F. Kennedy had trained for. “You have trained hard. You are ready,” Rear Admiral Mixson concluded, “Now let’s execute. For the aircrews, we are all very, very proud of you. I wish you good hunting and God speed.”

On 17 January 1991, 0120 local time, (1720 Eastern Standard Time, 16 January) John F. Kennedy launched her first strikes on Iraq, a half-hour after the initial wave by USAF planes. CVW-3 launched two major strikes of 80 sorties. The mood of the ship had begun with jubilation, then became somber and then anxious as the ship waited for all of her aircraft to return safely. All aircraft were recovered unharmed, the returning aircrew reporting heavy, but ineffective, antiaircraft fire over Baghdad. The strikes had proved successful, prompting one pilot to describe the action thus: “Imagine the Disney World light show, then magnify it 100 times… that’s what it looked like from the sky last night… it was incredible!”

Starting on that first day of strikes, John F. Kennedy settled into a routine that lasted through the end of the conflict, engaging in a steady but fast-paced regimen of preparing aircraft, launching them, recovering them, repeating the process. All the while, they kept a mixture of hope and faith in the success of their aircrews, and a suspended disbelief in the lack of casualties. John F. Kennedy’s Intruders launched the first Standoff Land Attack Missiles in combat on 19 January.

The three carrier battle group operations in the Red Sea, commanded by Rear Admiral Mixson, also settled into a routine. John F. Kennedy, Saratoga, and America formed the nucleus of the three groups. Standard procedure called for six-day rotations. Two carriers would launch strike aircraft while the third would operate in an area known as “Gasoline Alley” for two days to replenish munitions, stores, and fuel. Each carrier would be “on the line” for four days conducting either a night or daytime flight operations schedule, then “off duty” for two days. While in “Gasoline Alley,” the carrier under replenishment would also be responsible for AAW, AEW and CTTG alerts.

Detached from the Red Sea Battle Force on 7 February 1991, America proceeded to the Persian Gulf. John F. Kennedy and Saratoga changed their procedure to six days on line and two days off duty. In addition to launching strikes, the on-cycle carrier flew combat air patrol aircraft and stood CTTG, while the off-cycle carrier stood AAW, AEW, CTTG, and ASUW alerts when both carriers were on the line. When one of the two carriers was under replenishment, the other carrier would assume responsibility for all alerts. The carrier’s duty cycles of morning (A.M.) or evening (P.M.) were specified as 0000-1500 or 1200-0300 to accommodate returning strike recovery times. Each carrier launched two large strikes with times on target around nine hours apart to allow for deck respot and weapons loading. CAP cycle times were A.M. or P.M. for 12-hour periods.

The P.M. carrier was also responsible for S-3 pickup of the next day’s air tasking order from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. They also had to relay the message to the A.M. carrier. The air tasking order was retrieved in hard copy form because of the incompatibility between U.S. Air Force and Navy communications systems. The Air Force housed the theater air warfare commander, so the Navy had to play by their rules. While the P.M. carrier’s S-3 picked up the daily orders, the A.M. carrier’s S-3 delivered Scud missile TARPS to Riyadh by 0700 local time.

The war had not reached as quick a conclusion as John F. Kennedy’s crew would have liked. The carrier was scheduled to return-from-deployment on 15 February 1991 That same day, Saddam Hussein issued a statement concerning Iraq’s stated intention to withdraw from Kuwait, prompting cheer and jubilation from the Sailors. Their euphoria quickly dissipated once the conditions of Iraq’s withdrawal became evident. John F. Kennedy’s return-from-deployment date was cancelled. The general tone of the crew, one observer wrote later, was one of a desire to “hurry up and get it over with.” The carrier continued to launch air strikes right throughout the week that led up to the 24 February launch of the ground assault on Kuwait. When the crew learned that Desert Storm combat operations had ceased on 28 February, they were quite subdued. John F. Kennedy had launched a total of 114 strikes during the 42 days of conflict. 2895 combat sorties were flown for a total of 11,263.4 flight hours. The men were too tired to celebrate. They simply wanted to go home.

Many of John F. Kennedy’s men felt understandably dismayed when they learned that they would be making one more stop before heading home. Before embarking on her passage, the carrier set material condition Yoke on the main decks and below, instead of Zebra, for the first time since 13 January 1991. On 4 March, John F. Kennedy became the first-ever American warship to conduct a port visit at Hurghada, Egypt, but, as her chronicler wrote later: “The crew’s impatience to get home,” one observer in the ship later wrote, “was not helped by the necessity for canceling boating at Hurghada because of high winds and seas” from 5 to 7 March.

John F. Kennedy weighed anchor off Hurghada at midnight on 10 March 1991 and dropped anchor late in the afternoon of the following day at Port Suez to prepare for the Canal transit.  The carrier got underway at 0545, 12 March, for her long journey home.

At 1430 on 28 March 1991, John F. Kennedy moored at Pier 12, greeted by a throng bearing balloons, banners, and flags. 30,000 family members and supporters showed up to welcome Big John home in a celebration that rivaled those at the end of World War II in magnitude and enthusiasm. John F. Kennedy’s principal return banner bared the same initials of her proud namesake: “Justice For Kuwait.” Her battle group and Saratoga’s were the first such units to return to the continental United States.

John F. Kennedy immediately commenced a post-deployment stand down. Approximately half of the crew went on leave for one of the two-week leave periods through the end of April 1991. Simultaneously, she entered a selected restricted availability period and commenced maintenance, repairs, and upgrade at Norfolk Naval Station until 28 May, when she shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for more extensive work. 

Now that John F. Kennedy was in port, the SRA of the summer of 1991 planned to accomplish several major upgrades and overhauls: reconfiguration of the aircraft maintenance spaces to handle the F/A-18 Hornet, installation of the NTCS-A command and control system, replacement of the non-skid surface on the flight deck and hangar bay deck, and extensive repairs to boilers, piping, electrical generators, and air conditioning equipment. There was also extensive replacement of galley and laundry equipment and installation of the Uniform Micro-Computer Information Data System program, which allowed much quicker disbursing for the benefit of the crew.

John F. Kennedy remained at Norfolk Naval Shipyard until 1 October 1991, after suffering two false starts on 25 and 28 September. On 1 October, she steamed for the Virginia capes where she conducted sea trials and recertification for flight deck operations. She commenced carquals on 3 October. The carrier then steamed south and late afternoon on 10 October, moored at Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was in town for a good will visit to celebrate the Navy’s birthday in connection with Broward Navy Days. The local citizens and merchants of Fort Lauderdale extended great hospitality to John F. Kennedy, and they reciprocated by opening up for special tours and general visiting on 11-14 October. Aircraft from CVW-3 were on the flight deck for static display throughout the port visit.

John F. Kennedy conducted another Tiger Cruise back to Norfolk on 15 October 1991. The carrier and 300 dependents were scheduled to be pier side on 17 October, but winds of 50 knots made it prudent for the ship to delay proceeding into port until the next day, when she moored alongside Pier 12. The remainder of October and most of November saw more guests, and repairs and upkeep, particularly concentrated on the flight deck and flight deck equipment and engineering equipment and systems in preparation for the December underway period.

John F. Kennedy planned to get underway for carquals on 2 December 1991, but heavy fog and rain prohibited the ship from departing Norfolk until the morning of the following day. That set of qualifications saw the first carrier landings and takeoffs by the Navy’s new trainer, the T-45 Goshawk. Also, John F. Kennedy took on the new role of conducting training command carquals for pilots flying the North American T-2 Buckeye and Douglas TA-4 Skyhawk on 8 December. The ship returned to Norfolk on 17 December and began a holiday leave period that concluded 6 January 1992.

John F. Kennedy would not be underway again until 15 January 1992, when she stood out to proceed to the waters off Jacksonville and Key West for carquals for the replacement and fleet squadrons and begin the training cycle leading to deployment. That same day, the ship embarked a four-man video production crew from the Discovery Channel who sought to describe military use of satellites for a special feature program “Space Age.” The footage shot on board John F. Kennedy formed a portion of the hour-long military focus segment of the program.

John F. Kennedy returned to Norfolk on 31 January 1992, and did not get underway again until 26 February, when she sailed, with Captain Timothy R. Beard, prospective commanding officer, on board for orientation, to conduct fleet carquals off the Virginia capes and northern Jacksonville operating areas. Following those evolutions, Captain Beard relieved Captain Gay on 6 March.

Refresher training preparations began on 9 March 1992 and ran until 3 April, evolutions that would determine how ready the ship and air wing were and would certify them both as ready to begin unrestricted training in the pre-deployment work-up training cycle. Those preparations included multiple self-inspections of the material readiness of all ship’s spaces and damage control equipment, as well as frequent early morning general quarters drills. The carrier got underway on 1 April and commenced the exercises on 4 April with a series of drills at general quarters and with evaluated combat systems, seamanship, and flight deck exercises.

John F. Kennedy’s refresher training proved far from “smooth sailing.” Initially, the ship’s success at setting material conditions yoke and zebra was not good, particularly because of the amount of time and effort spent correcting discrepancies from the previous drills. In response to these shortcomings, 9 April 1992 became a stand-down day for correcting discrepancies and refocusing damage control efforts. The ship achieved satisfactory results on setting material conditions the next day, however, the scores received for yoke and zebra were 75.1% and 65.04% respectively. 62.5% was considered a passing score. Thereafter, drills were completely productive and culminated with a major conflagration exercise beginning at 0400 on 14 April.

On 11 April 1992, at the request of the Naval War College, a news team from WJAR-TV, an NBC-affiliated station in Providence, Rhode Island, embarked to produce a TV story to better acquaint the citizens of Rhode Island with the mission and operation of the fleet. On 14 April, another reporter from WTKR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Norfolk, arrived to film a segment called “Captains and Their Ships” while the carrier was in the Tidewater area.

The remainder of April 1992 and the early part of May focused on preparations for an operational exercise and Fleet Week ‘92 in New York City. On 11 May, John F. Kennedy conducted limited operations for CVW-3, then continued carquals in the Virginia capes operating areas, before she moved north to facilitate a 19 May embarkation, for an overnight visit of 50 New Yorkers, preceding the ship’s arrival. Also visiting the ship were the late President Kennedy’s two children: Mrs. Carolyn [Kennedy] Schlossberg, John F. Kennedy’s sponsor, and John F. Kennedy, Jr., accompanied by eleven senior police officials from the city of New York. The carrier moored at the Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal on the Hudson River on 20 May.

John F. Kennedy’s arrival in New York kicked off Fleet Week ’92. Rear Admiral James A. Lair acted as senior officer present afloat (SOPA) for the various ships in New York for the events, which included the submarine tender L.Y. Spear (AS-36), guided missile frigate Clifton Sprague (FFG-16), frigate Donald B. Beary (FF-1085), amphibious assault ship Guadalcanal (LPH-7), Coast Guard cutter Tahoma (WMEC-908) and the French destroyer Aconit.  

Fleet Week ‘92 drew to a close on 26 May 1992, and by sunset John F. Kennedy had cleared the harbor and coastal areas. The next day, she launched CVW-3’s squadrons to return to their home bases while a combat systems readiness review team embarked to conduct tests, inspections, and review readiness of the ship’s combat systems. She moored at Norfolk on 29 May.

The combat systems readiness review team finished its work on board John F. Kennedy on 5 June 1992, and an operational propulsion plant examination conducted on 15 June certified the ship for two years’ steaming. She then spent the remainder of that month and the early part of the next preparing for composite training unit exercises (CompTUEx). On 10 July, Rear Admiral Frederick L. Lewis, ComCarGru 4, broke his flag in John F. Kennedy as the training carrier group commander. The ship got underway on 13 July for carquals and CompTUEx in Puerto Rican waters.

On 22 July 1992, John F. Kennedy hosted retired Major General Mary E. Clarke, USA, retired Brigadier General Samuel E. Cockerham, USA, writer and former DACOWITS member Elaine Donnelly, and reserve USAF Master Sergeant Sarah White, of the Presidential Commission on Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces as they visited the ship for an orientation into life at sea and carrier aviation. The four commission members observed the crew’s working and living conditions and interviewed various members of the ship’s company and aircrews, gathering their thoughts, opinions, perceptions and expectations on serving with women. The Commission’s report of their visit would be enclosed with their report to the President on 15 November for his subsequent report to Congress a month later.

Tragedy struck the carrier’s air wing during her operations in Puerto Rican waters on 24 July 1992. Commander Robert K. Christensen, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 37’s commanding officer, apparently lost orientation and flew his F/A-18C (AC 302) into the sea during a training night attack mission over Vieques.

The next day, 25 July 1992, John F. Kennedy anchored off St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands for a scheduled four-day port visit, a memorial service being held for Commander Christensen being held as soon as the ship dropped anchor. However, late that same day, the ship received orders to get underway as soon as possible. An emergency recall of the crew was ordered and the ship was underway the following day, joining Carrier Task Force (CTF) 24.1, bound for the Med in response to Iraq’s recalcitrance in abiding by the cease-fire agreement imposed by the United Nations. CTF 24.1, under Rear Admiral James A. Lair, also included guided missile cruisers Gettysburg (CG-64), Leyte Gulf (CG-55), and Wainwright (CG-28), guided missile frigates Halyburton (FFG-40) and McInerney (FFG-8), frigate Capodanno (FF-1093), and underway replenishment oiler Kalamazoo (AOR-6). On 28 July, however, the sortie toward the Med was cancelled and the ships ordered to return to scheduled training in the North Puerto Rican operating area. 

Once John F. Kennedy returned to Puerto Rican waters, the CompTUEx continued with Rear Admiral Lewis resuming command of the battle group to continue the exercises. Tragedy struck the air wing again, however, when on 31 July 1992 an E-2C from VAW-126 reported experiencing difficulties and the cockpit filling with smoke. The plane crashed into the sea approximately four miles from the ship and 60 miles north of Puerto Rico. Lieutenant Commander Alan M. McLachlen, Lieutenants Michael F. Horowitz and Tristram E. Farmer, and Lieutenant (j.g.)s Richard Siter, Jr., and Thomas D. Plautz, perished in the mishap; only one body was recovered, the others entombed with the Hawkeye in over 20,000 feet of water. A memorial service honored the lost VAW-126 crew, as well as for Commander Christensen, VFA-137’s commanding officer who had died a week earlier, was held on 1 August. 

Once the ship and air wing were certified for deployment, the ship chopped to Commander 2nd Fleet on 6 August 1992, and returned to Norfolk on 10 August. She spent the remainder of August and beginning of September in preparation for fleet exercises and her subsequent deployment. On 21 August, that deployment date was announced as 7 October 1992.