In this file photo, USS George Washington (CVN-73) steams in the East China Sea June 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly)

PACIFIC OCEAN - While the United States prepares to celebrate America's independence with typical festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues, George Washington (CVN 73) Sailors marked another Fourth of July landmark occasion, the commissioning of the aircraft carrier.

"Today we reflect on the birthday of this great war ship," said Captain David Lausman, George Washington's commanding officer, during a July 2 celebration at sea. "Sailors who've served and are serving aboard her are the lifeblood of this ship. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, I ask that we also honor the Sailors who take this ship to sea in defense of freedom for all around the world."

George Washington was commissioned on July 4, 1992 and became a full-fledged U.S. warship capable of delivering air power anywhere in the world after six years of construction, 40 million man-hours, and $3.5 billion. Since then, George Washington has made more than a dozen successful tours across the globe and continues to provide a strong U.S. Naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

"From the very beginning of our country to where we are today, the spirit of freedom has rung true through whatever we, as a people, have done," said Rear Adm. J. R. Haley, commander, Carrier Strike Group Five. "It is because of people like you, from the most junior seaman, to captains, that we prevail."

George Washington's crew celebrated this momentous event with numerous activities, including a steel beach picnic on the flight deck, and a talent show and cake cutting ceremony in the ship's hangar bay.

"This is a great way for our Sailors to get away for a little bit and mingle with the crew," said Command Master Chief Shaun Brahmsteadt. "Twenty years is a long time for a vessel. It's a huge milestone and a great birthday to make for the crew; we're looking forward to twenty-five."

All hands were invited to spend the day relaxing and enjoying a little free time for pick-up games of football and basketball, a doughnut eating contest and video game tournaments all while eating grilled hamburgers, hotdogs and all the fixings. Afterwards, each Sailor aboard was invited to the hangar bay for a slice of birthday cake in honor of the aircraft carrier. "It's great to be able to come out here and enjoy some time off," said Machinist's Mate 1st Class Michael Brown. "I work in reactor, so we don't get a lot of sunlight and fresh air underway; this is a nice break."

Sailors spent most of the day at their leisure, which is not a common theme for the ship's crew who are conducting daily operations and preparing for an upcoming Board of Inspection and Survey.

"I think it's important that we continue to do what we're doing here," said Electrician's Mate Tatyana Shaw, from Chicago. "Our presence here helps ensure the safety of our allies and our own country as well."

As the ship's namesake once said, "It follows then as certain as the night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definite, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."

"Focus on today," said Haley. "Focus on being ready, on overcoming, because we are the core of the spirit of freedom."

Though the Navy has no official founder, George Washington is credited with creating the organization where, since 1798, there has always been a Naval vessel sailing under his name. During the ship's christening address, former President George Bush said, "Let the George Washington proclaim America's commitment to remain free forever." From that moment on, George Washington and its crew has embodied "The Spirit of Freedom".

George Washington departed Fleet Activities Yokosuka on May 26 for its 2012 patrol. George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region.