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USS Kitty Hawk pulls into Bremerton waterfront

USS Kitty Hawk’s bow is shown as the ship pulls into Sinclair Inlet near Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton Sept. 2. Bremerton is the ship’s new homeport and it will be its last, as the crew prepares Kitty Hawk for inactivation and decommissioning, tentatively scheduled for late January 2009. - MCSN Jeff Stewart
USS Kitty Hawk’s bow is shown as the ship pulls into Sinclair Inlet near Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton Sept. 2. Bremerton is the ship’s new homeport and it will be its last, as the crew prepares Kitty Hawk for inactivation and decommissioning, tentatively scheduled for late January 2009.
— image credit: MCSN Jeff Stewart

USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) pulled into Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton Sept. 2, wrapping up a 47-year career in which it has seen everything from combat operations to presidential visits.

Bremerton is the ship’s new homeport and will be its last, as the crew prepares Kitty Hawk for inactivation and decommissioning, tentatively scheduled for late January 2009.

About 1,600 crew members made the journey, down from more than 2,700 earlier this year. By the end of the month that number will drop to about 600 and by decommissioning the crew will be down to about 400.

“It’s good to be home,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Andrew Sortland, from Silverdale.

Sortland said his whole family was waiting for him as he arrived in Bremerton.

Yeoman 1st Class Petty Officer Stephen Tryka, from Shoreline, Wash., said he’s ecstatic about pulling into his home state.

“I have family right across the water,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve gone home on a (seagoing) command.”

This is Tryka’s second ship and most of his career has been spent overseas.

Tryka’s first ship, USS Constellation, Kitty Hawk’s sister ship, decommissioned a few years ago and is moored in the shipyard’s inactive ship facility.

USS Kitty Hawk is the last diesel fuel-powered aircraft carrier in the United States Navy and is the Navy’s oldest active warship. It operated from Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, for a decade, leaving May 28 to be relieved by USS George Washington (CVN 73).

It’s the end of an era and kind of sad,” Tryka said. “The ship had a great career.”

In June 1963, Kitty Hawk served as the “floating White House” for President John F. Kennedy’s one-night stay.

Kitty Hawk made seven combat deployments to Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, provided close-air support to forces during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in the early 1990s and flew combat air patrols over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch.

The carrier embarked Special Forces troops and helicopters after Sept. 11, 2001, serving as a springboard for operations against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Aircraft from Kitty Hawk also took part in the initial strikes against Saddam Hussein’s regime during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sortland said it’s an honor to be part of Kitty Hawk’s last crew; his father and uncle both served on Kitty Hawk.

Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Downing’s father helped commission the ship; now he gets to decommission the ship.

While Kitty Hawk steamed from San Diego to Bremerton, 67 former Kitty Hawk crew members made the transit, including 38 of the original crew, known as plankowners. On Aug. 31, the ashes of former crewmember D.C. Moncreif were buried at sea off the Oregon Coast.

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