Homeporting Ceremony Greets USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif., July 23, 2004 Former first lady Nancy Reagan was among hundreds of dignitaries and thousands of spectators here today as the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, was welcomed to its home port of San Diego.
It was Mrs. Reagan's first public appearance since her husband's funeral last month.
"Ronnie would have loved the sight of this great ship coming into his beloved California," Mrs. Reagan said of the late president. "I know how proud he was to have this ship named after him, and in my heart I know he's looking down on us today and smiling."
Indeed, what had been a cloudy, almost gloomy morning in San Diego gave way to blue skies and bright sunshine just as the homeporting ceremony began.
Mrs. Reagan christened the carrier in Newport News, Va., in March 2001. The ship was commissioned July 12, 2003. It's the ninth ship in the Navy's Nimitz class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The ship left Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in May and traveled around the tip of South America on the journey that culminated with today's ceremony.
Mrs. Reagan, accompanied by Vice Adm. Michael Malone, commander of Naval Air Forces, was flown out to the carrier this morning to be aboard for its arrival. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz administered the re-enlistment oath to 70 Reagan crew members and presided over promotion ceremonies for four of the ship's officers aboard the ship before it arrived.
A roar went up from the families of Reagan crew members when the ship came into view at 9:35 a.m. The gargantuan vessel silently moved from left to right, parallel to the dock, as thousands cheered. Sailors in crisp, white uniforms lined the deck and every visible railing, and in moments the whole ship was visible. As tugboats pushed the carrier closer to the dock, individual squeals of recognition rose from family members.
Parents, wives, children and sweethearts, some using binoculars, scanned the carrier, looking for their loved one. Many of the sailors, talking on cell phones, seemed to play "20 Questions" to find their loved ones in the crowd.
Rosario Ploubier of Oceanside, Calif., held up a large, professionally made canvas sign that read, "Welcome Home Cassandra." Her daughter, Petty Officer 2nd Class Cassandra Ploubier, is a Reagan crew member.
The sailor's mother, grandmother, brothers and cousins searched the sea of white uniforms, and took awhile to find her. But the family jumped for joy when they recognized her. Ploubier has been in the Navy for about four years, her mother said, and this was the first time they'd seen one another in three and a half years.
"We almost didn't get in," the petty officer's mother said, referring to the bleacher area set aside for 7,000 people. "But they had room to let in five more people, and here we are." With the petty officer waving from the carrier's tower and the family waving back, the smiles all around were the kind that come only from love.
Wolfowitz served during the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs and as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. He recalled the late president's role in the proliferation of democracy among nations formerly ruled by tyrants, and said Reagan would be gratified at how America's armed forces have helped to liberate 50 million people mostly Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"President Reagan would recognize the emergence of two new allies in the free world," Wolfowitz said. "He would see the stirrings of democracy among people brave enough to choose liberty over tyranny." Reagan would support the fledgling democracies as he did while many doubted that countries in other regions could make the transition from dictatorship to free societies "undeterred by those who would suggest that democracy cannot work in the Arab world and by those who would suggest that the United States should retreat in the face of evil.
"I think Ronald Reagan would remind those critics of America's conviction, of our creed," Wolfowitz continued. "As he put it, 'Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.'"
The deputy defense secretary called the USS Ronald Reagan one of the Navy's "crown jewels," but added that the late president wouldn't be as proud of the carrier itself as he would be of "the men and women who are the lifeblood of this great ship."
The company crew that arrived with the ship numbered about 3,000, but the Reagan's capacity is twice that number. It carries enough food and supplies for 90 days and the ships cooks can serve up to 18,150 meals daily. Distillation plants provide 400,000 gallons of fresh water from sea water daily, enough to supply 2,000 homes.
Among the Reagan's advances are a completely redesigned island, a bulbous bow for improved flight operations and more berthing spaces and facilities for women than on previous ships of its class. The carrier is 1,092 feet long, has a 4.5-acre flight deck and towers 20 stories above the water line. Each of its four bronze propellers is 21 feet across and weighs 66,220 pounds.
The carrier's two nuclear reactors power it to a top speed of 30 knots and can operate for 20 years without refueling. The ship carries about 80 aircraft and is equipped with Rolling Airframe Missiles, which replace the Close-In Weapons System used on other carriers. RAM systems pack 21 "fire and forget" missiles capable of destroying high-speed incoming targets.