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PACIFIC OCEAN - Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Sailors and Marines aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) at sea Feb. 25.
Austin met with Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (NIMCSG) leadership, including Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander, Carrier Strike Group 11, and Capt. Max Clark, Nimitz commanding officer.
During his visit, Austin addressed the crew via the ship’s public address system, or 1MC, thanking the strike group for their service, sacrifice and their ability to work as a team. Austin also passed along his appreciation to the crew’s families and friends.
“I’m excited to be here,“ said Austin. “One of the things I wanted to say upfront is that I want to thank you for what you’ve done. You’ve demonstrated incredible professionalism, resiliency and focus. It was impressive. We are all tremendously proud of what you have done.”
The crew of Nimitz and staffs of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 11 and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 9 embarked Nimitz April 1, 2020, for what would be a 27-day restriction of movement (ROM) period pierside in Bremerton, Washington.
NIMCSG deployed from San Diego June 8 after completing a composite training unit exercise. During deployment, NIMCSG completed four dual carrier operations in U.S. 7th Fleet with Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Groups, and conducted cooperative deployments with the Indian and Australian navies. The ships also participated in multinational exercise MALABAR 2020 with Japan, Australia and India.
While operating in U.S. 5th Fleet, NIMCSG supported Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. In September 2020, the strike group began operations in the Arabian Gulf, conducting the first aircraft carrier Strait of Hormuz transit in nearly a year. NIMCSG also supported Operation Inherent Resolve, providing close air support and defensive counter-air missions to the coalition fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and to Joint Task Force – Quartz and Operation Octave Quartz during a repositioning of U.S. forces within East Africa, transiting to the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia in December 2020.
“You sent a clear message about America’s resolve,” said Austin. “Any potential adversary out there has to know when they look at what you have accomplished, that the United States takes very seriously our security commitments around the world. You didn’t accomplish that alone. The entire strike group was a formidable force. You’ve lived up to your motto, ‘Teamwork a Tradition’.”
Austin also personally recognized crew members of the strike group.
“It was an absolute shock and honor,” said Chief Yeoman Michelle Riqueros, who was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal by Austin during a ceremony in the hangar bay. “His words of praise and appreciation bolstered the pride I feel with serving our country. This was a rare opportunity to be selected for, and I'm humbled by my department and leadership for it.
“The recognition was the result of the tireless work, training, and perseverance of my Sailors throughout every twist and turn this deployment,” added Riqueros. “I'm darn proud of every one of them, and to be a part of the Nimitz team.”
Deploying ships and aircraft of the strike group include flagship carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), the nine squadrons and staff of Carrier Air Wing 17, staffs of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 11 and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 9, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), USS Sterett (DDG 104) and USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114).