79.6 F
Cruz Bay
Friday, January 27, 2023



Sept. 25, 2001 – With U.S. Navy warships back in the area to conduct training off the island of Vieques, a Navy spokesman says recreational calls at Virgin Islands ports in conjunction with the exercises are not out of the question.
"If we can schedule a chance to visit a liberty port during this or any other exercises, we will certainly try to do that," Cmdr. John Kirby said.
But that's as specific as Kirby, a Navy public affairs officer in Norfolk, Va., would be. "Because of the attacks earlier this month, nothing about the way the Navy does business will be ever be routine again," he said.
In the days preceding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, local insiders had been looking forward to the visits in late September and early October of seven Navy ships — the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy and other vessels in its battle group. Calls at St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John were anticipated.
Afterward, the likelihood of the calls still occurring appeared remote, with national media reporting that the Kennedy had been deployed to the New York area.
A Navy press release distributed Monday stated that two Navy destroyers, Spruance and The Sullivans, had successfully conducted surface fire support exercises using the Vieques inner range, while 23 Hornet aircraft conducted air-to-ground training with inert, non-explosive ammunition. A call to Kirby brought confirmation that the 12 ships and approximately 85 aircraft in the JFK Battle Group began using the Vieques inner range on Monday in connection with a training exercise.
He said the exercise, which also is utilizing Puerto Rican operating areas, will involve complex battle group training events, naval surface fire support training and air-to-ground bombing. He said he expects the exercises to continue "into next month."
Asked whether recreational visits to the Virgin Islands in conjunction with the nearby exercises might still be in the offing, Kirby replied: "Given the recent attacks on the country, we are being very circumspect about the release of information. I am not going to be able to talk about potential port visits or where or when they may be."
He noted that the Navy is operating under "heightened threat conditions" and added, "We are dealing with a new kind of enemy and a new kind of threat."
However, he then added, "Generally speaking, when able, we like to give the ships and their crews some time off … We realize that is important for the sailors and the communities they visit."
Kirby said most liberty policy decisions are "up to the Navy's local area and regional commanders-in-chief to determine" on a case-by-case basis. "During periods of heightened threat conditions," he said, "they can make some allowances. The higher the threat conditions, the more limited the liberty policy exceptions are."
Sindi Coombs, owner of C&C Port Services, the Navy's local agent, said, "We are just sitting here keeping our fingers crossed" that some of the ships may be able to visit. "I have not been notified one way or the other," she said Monday.
According to Kirby, "There is nothing dramatically different" about the Navy's ongoing training exercises as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. He said the exercises are an "essential part of the JFK Battle Group's pre-deployment training." And that training, he said, is "designed to forge the battle group into a cohesive fighting team and to certify the carrier and its embarked air wing as qualified for open ocean operations" without benefit of a "divert airfield."
The ships of the JFK Battle Group are the aircraft carrier Kennedy, the guided missile cruisers Hue City and Vicksburg, the guided missile destroyers Carney, The Sullivans and Roosevelt, the destroyer Spruance, the guided missile frigates Underwood and Taylor, the attack submarines Toledo and Boise, and the oiler Seattle.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.