USS John F Kennedy CVA-67 (later CV-67) - 2001-2005

John F. Kennedy remained in upkeep status at Mayport until 5 February 2001. The next day, wearing Rear Admiral Lewis W. Crenshaw, Jr.’s flag as ComCarGru 6, and with CVW-7 embarked, she sailed for carquals and to begin technical evaluations of the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). Phase One was conducted in the Puerto Rican operating area, and ended with a port visit for all participating units: including the guided missile cruisers Anzio (CG-68), Hue City (CG-66), Cape St. George (CG-71), and Vicksburg (CG-69), the destroyers Carney (DDG-64) and The Sullivans (DDG-68), and the amphibious assault ship Wasp (LHD-1). Following port visits in the Dutch Antilles, the Bahamas, Miami, and Port Canaveral by individual ships in the battle group, phase II CEC training began in the Virginia capes operating area.

John F. Kennedy’s Battle Group contained five Aegis-equipped ships with CEC systems: Hue City and Vicksburg, the guided missile destroyers Carney, The Sullivans, and Roosevelt (DDG-80). CVW-7 would take the CEC system through extensive testing to aid the Navy in making its purchasing decision, providing realistic dynamic flight profiles and tactical scenarios. Now, armed with CEC components, John F. Kennedy and her air wing, and her consorts, could share sensor data and provide a single, integrated picture. The carrier could also see and respond, with fire-control accuracy, to air contacts further from the ship than was previously possible.

After visiting St. Martin (20-24 February 2001) John F. Kennedy sailed for the capes, and ultimately returned to Mayport on 5 March for upkeep that lasted until 12 March. The next day, the ship left to begin operating in the waters off Jacksonville. On 16 March, the ship returned to Mayport.

John F. Kennedy began her transit to Jacksonville operating area on 17 March 2001 for carquals. From 21 April to 2 May, the carrier conducted further CEC-related work. The ship lay in Mayport for upkeep from 3-4 May, and then conducted an operational evaluation from 5-13 May. The carrier returned to Mayport for more upkeep from 14-20 May.

John F. Kennedy returned to New York City from 21-31 May 2001 to participate in Fleet Week, where she once again served as ambassador to the people of New York and provided them with a greater understanding of carrier operations and the role of the aircraft carrier in global politics. The carrier returned to Mayport on 6 June for upkeep. On 7 June, the ship began three days of tailored ships training availability (TSTA), upon completion of which, the carrier returned to Mayport for upkeep that lasted until 9 July 2001.

John F. Kennedy conducted TSTA (phases I and II) from 10-25 July 2001 before returning to Mayport on 27 July for upkeep that extended until 22 August. During that time, on 30 July 2001, Rear Admiral Steven J. Tomaszeski (who had been the carrier’s exec at one point in his career) relieved Rear Admiral Crenshaw as ComCarGru 6/Commander John F. Kennedy Battle Group. On 23 August, the carrier began a week of TSTA, phase III. She returned to Mayport on 31 August for an extended upkeep period. From 6 to 8 August, John F. Kennedy Battle Group units participated in Solid Curtain, an Atlantic Fleet exercise that extended along the entire east coast, an evolution designed to test and improve the battle group’s ability to recognize and defend against terrorist attacks while in-port. Tragic events transpired soon thereafter that rendered such concerns justified.

On 11 September 2001, terrorists flew two Boeing 767 commercial airliners, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, into the World Trade Center towers in New York City. The twin structures eventually collapsed, one after the other, due to the infernal heat generated from burning aviation fuel. Terrorists also mercilessly hijacked two Boeing 757 airliners: American Flight 77 crashed the Pentagon. United Flight 93, however, did not reach its intended target, believed to have been either the White House or the Capital, when passengers, apprised of their perilous plight by personal cellular phones, apparently gained the upper hand over the hijackers and forced the 757 down near Somerset, Pennsylvania, bravely giving their lives to save countless others. All told, the terrorist attacks slew over 3,000 people.

As those events unfolded, John F. Kennedy and her battle group were slated to get underway for CompTUEx 01-2; ordered to support Operation Noble Eagle instead, set in motion in the wake of the brutal terrorist assault, the carrier and her consorts quickly established air security along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, including under its umbrella Washington, D.C., “to help calm a fearful and shocked nation.” Simultaneously, George Washington and her battle group operated in proximity of New York. “While John F. Kennedy Battle Group’s services were needed for only a brief time,” wrote one ComCarGru 6 observer later, “every member of the Battle Group was proud of their role in Operation Noble Eagle providing security along the eastern seaboard of the United States.”

Released from Noble Eagle on 14 September 2001, John F. Kennedy steamed for the Puerto Rican operating areas to conduct intermediate level CompTUEx along with ten other U.S. warships, including 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 fast combat support ship Seattle, and the attack submarines Toledo (SSN-769) and Boise (SSN-764). The exercise included naval surface fire support, ship-to-ship gunnery training, traditional surface warfare and underwater training, and air-to-ground bombing using inert ordnance. John F. Kennedy and her air wing, CVW-7, qualified for blue water or open-ocean certification and the battle group became the first to employ the Navy’s new Cooperative Engagement Capability during CompTUEx, completing the exercise on 13 October. On 16 October, the group participated in a SinkEx that involved ex-Guam (LPH-9) off the Cherry Point Operating Area, the coup de grace being administered by ballistic missile submarine Maryland (SSBN-738), which was operating under the tactical command of Commander, John F. Kennedy Battle Group, for the exercise.

John F. Kennedy returned to Mayport on 20 October, for upkeep that lasted until 26 November 2001. On 27 November, John F. Kennedy steamed to the waters off Jacksonville for three days of independent ship exercises. From 1-2 December, the ship underwent upkeep in Mayport, then spent three days undergoing inspection and survey; soon thereafter, on 13 December 2001, Captain Maurice S. Joyce was relieved of command by Commander James Gregorski, the executive officer, contemporary media reports citing the ship’s having failed “a critical ship inspection.” Captain Johnny L. “Turk” Greene became the carrier’s new commanding officer soon thereafter, faced with the formidable task of correcting the discrepancies revealed in the preceding inspection and survey period.

John F. Kennedy began operations in 2002 when she conducted Joint Task Force Exercise 02-01, Phase 1, from 19-25 January, followed by sea trials on 26-27 January. The ship returned to Mayport on 28 January for three days of upkeep. John F. Kennedy began two days of sea trials on 3 February. That day, while conducting trials of her engineering plant and other operational equipment, John F. Kennedy lost steering control during an underway replenishment with the oiler Leroy Grumman (T-AO-195). She implemented an emergency breakaway procedure and regained steering, allowing the ships to maintain a safe distance. Neither ship reported any damaged equipment, but eight sailors in John F. Kennedy sustained minor injuries.

John F. Kennedy, wearing Rear Admiral Tomaszeski’s flag as ComCarGru 6, and with CVW-7 embarked, deployed to the Persian Gulf, on 7 February 2002, two months ahead of schedule, in a battle group that included guided missile cruisers Vicksburg and Hue City, guided missile destroyer Roosevelt, destroyer Spruance, and guided missile frigates Underwood and Taylor. From 7 to 15 February, John F. Kennedy and her consorts completed phase II of Joint Task Force Exercise 02-01, in the midst of which, on 12 February 2002, Captain Ronald H. Henderson, Jr., relieved Captain Greene, who had presided over the ship’s successful preparations for her deployment, as commanding officer. On 16 February, John F. Kennedy and her battle group began their “Trans-Atlantic Journey.”

John F. Kennedy chopped into the 6th Fleet on 21 February 2002 to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. On 23 February, she transited the Strait of Gibraltar, Rear Admiral Tomaszeski becoming Commander TG 60.3, and after pausing briefly at Souda Bay, pointed her bow toward the North Arabian Sea Operating Area on 1 March.

While John F. Kennedy was conducting flight-training operations on 2 March 2002, approximately 50 nautical miles south of Crete, Lieutenant Commander Christopher M. Blaschum of VF-143 encountered nose gear problems during launch. Both he and Lieutenant (j.g.) Rafe Wysham, his RIO, exited the aircraft. “[Two] Souls in water,” noted the ship’s log soon thereafter; SH-60 Sea Hawks from HS-5 and rigid inflatable boats from The Sullivans, the latter employed when the carrier’s whaleboat went dead in the water as the rescue efforts unfolded, retrieved Wysham, but Lieutenant Commander Blaschum, married and the father of two boys, died of injuries suffered in the ejection.

John F. Kennedy transited the Suez Canal on 4 March 2002, one day after the commencement of Operation Anaconda, unleashed by U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan to trap al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters known to be holed-up in the Shah-e-Kot Valley, south of Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan. On 6 March, her battle group relieved Theodore Roosevelt’s in the northern Arabian Sea, joining forces with John C. Stennis and her consorts, and the next day, transited the Strait of Bab El Mandeb.

Captain Henderson, on the eve of the ship’s launching her first strikes in support of Enduring Freedom, addressed his crew on 10 March 2002: “We are currently proceeding, at best speed, to our launch strike for tonight’s strikes, off the coast of Pakistan, nearly 700 miles south of our targets in Afghanistan. At midnight, CVW-7 will launch into the dark night and strike their first blows of Operation Enduring Freedom, the war on terrorism. For us this is a culminating point in space, a culminating point in time, and a culminating point in history.”

“Our enemy is a group of religious fanatics,” he continued, “who pervert the peace of Islam and twist its meaning to justify the murder of thousands of innocents at the Twin Towers of New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania. They hate us and attack us because they oppose all that is good about America. They hate us because we are prosperous. They hate us because we are tolerant. They hate us because we are happy. Mostly, they hate us because we are free,” he continued, and harkened to the words of the man for whom the ship was named, “and because we will ‘pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.’ Make no mistake,” Henderson concluded gravely, “this is a fight for Western Civilization. If these monsters are not destroyed they will destroy us, and our children and children’s children will live in fear forever…”

“America is the only nation that can stop them and destroy them,” he went on, referring to the strength of the country and its resources “to hunt these fanatics down anywhere in the world.” After noting America’s leadership role in the global community, Henderson declared that “Our Naval power has been the principal weapon of our resolve,” and mentioned “great ships and great crews” that had gone before them. “It is now our turn,” he said, “to strike for justice and we will strike hard.”

”Millions of Americans wish they could be with us here tonight,” he continued, “They saw the Twin Towers fall, and watched helplessly, wanting to do something to defend America and our way of life. For us tonight, that wait and that helplessness are over. We have reached the point where we are all part of something so much greater than ourselves. For the rest of our lives, no matter whether we stay in the Navy or move on to civilian life, no matter what we do or where we go, we will remember that on 10 March 2002, we came together and struck a blow for freedom.”

After noting the “volunteer” nature of the service, the captain noted the opportunity given them, the “chance to truly make a difference in the world,” and the diversity of the country they served: “We represent America in all its power and diversity. We are men and women, rich and poor, black and white, and all colors of the human rainbow. We are Christian, Jew, and yes, Muslim. WE ARE AMERICA.”

“This war will not be short, pleasant or easy. It has already required the sacrifice of our firefighters, our policemen, our soldiers, our Sailors, our airmen, and our Marines. More sacrifices will be made. In the end we will win, precisely because we are those things that the terrorists hate: prosperous, happy, tolerant, and most of all, free.”

Paying tribute to the nation’s unity of purpose, their families’ backing them, Henderson promised: “We will not let them down. We are, and will be, men and women of honor, courage, and commitment.” After quoting Abraham Lincoln’s declaration that “America is the last, best hope for the world,” he declared,” Tonight we hold a shining beacon of that hope. We shall keep it burning brightly.”

”Stay sharp,” he urged his crew. “Stay focused. Stay safe. Use the training that has made you the best Sailors in the world, the best Sailors in the history of the world. Trust in your faith, and in your shipmates. God bless us all, and God bless America.”

Soon thereafter, John F. Kennedy began launching her first strikes in support of operations Anaconda and Enduring Freedom. During a night mission over Afghanistan on 12 March, Commander John C. Aquilino, VF-11’s commanding officer, and Lieutenant Commander Kevin Protzman made the first combat strike of the Mk. 84 2,000-pound JDAM (a guided air-to-surface weapon utilizing a tail control system and the Global Positioning System for guidance) from their F-14B Tomcat.

While underway, John F. Kennedy’s combat system’s CS-4 division replaced one of the motors on the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) antenna. With the equipment restored, the crew enjoyed better access to telephones, e-mail and the Internet. DSCS provided 40% of the bandwidth for shipboard communications and after CS-4’s work, there was less e-mail backlog and the Internet rendered more accessible.

John F. Kennedy welcomed Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his partner Bertram van Munster, in April 2002 to begin 30 days of filming on board the carrier. Their project, Profiles from the Front Line, had access to John F. Kennedy, other ships operating with her, and military forces on the ground in Afghanistan. The guided missile cruisers Lake Champlain (CG-57) and Hue City also hosted film crews.

John F. Kennedy assumed sole responsibility for carrier operations supporting Enduring Freedom on 17 April 2002 when Rear Admiral Tomaszeski became CTF-50, marking the transition from multi-carrier battle group operations to single.

After a port visit to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates (14-17 May 2002), John F. Kennedy returned to active operations. On 5 June 2002, however, F-14 Tomcats Navy-wide were grounded due to complications with the nose landing gear, an order that bore directly upon John F. Kennedy’s Enduring Freedom requirements. While VF-11 and VF-143 began repairs of its F-14s in earnest, VFA-131 and VFA-136, both equipped with newer F/A-18 Hornets, flew additional sorties to maintain the carrier’s air requirement for Enduring Freedom. John F. Kennedy’s air department, meanwhile, in a job estimated to take up to two weeks to accomplish, tackled the task and completed inspections and repairs on all the F-14s in just five days. On 14 June, the Tomcats were back in the fight.

Two days later, on 16 June 2002, off the coast of Oman, elements of John F. Kennedy’s Battle Group transitioned from warriors to good Samaritans. Guided missile cruiser Vicksburg, guided to the scene by an S-3B from VS-31 sent off from the carrier, launched an SH-60B from HSL-42, Detachment 7, to assist Stolt Spray, a tanker in the vicinity that had stood by to assist the foundering motor vessel al Murthada. When monsoon conditions rendered it impossible for Stolt Spray to provide waterborne assistance, Vicksburg’s helo transferred al Murthada’s distressed mariners, who had been adrift for eight days, bereft of power, potable water, and food, to the tanker, for further transportation.

The George Washington (CVN-73) Battle Group relieved John F. Kennedy and her consorts of their Enduring Freedom responsibilities on 19 July 2002. All told, John F. Kennedy had spent 129 days in theatre, conducting 97 Enduring Freedom fly days. CVW-7 averaged 76 sorties per day from 11 March through 17 July. They also dropped 62,113,994 pounds of ordnance on Taliban and al Qaeda targets and supported U.S. and Coalition forces on the ground with close air support, on occasion working with Special Forces units.

The crews of both ships transferred ordnance and CVW-7 aircrews debriefed their George Washington counterparts from CVW-17 on procedures for conducting Enduring Freedom missions. The two carriers also completed turnover, which actually began several weeks earlier via the Internet. John F. Kennedy had been the only U.S. carrier supporting Enduring Freedom from April until her relief.

Returning home, John F. Kennedy transited the Strait of Bab El Mandeb on 20 July and the Suez Canal on 24 July. She anchored in Marmaris, Turkey, for a four-day port visit on 26 July and began a port visit to Tarragona, Spain, on 3 August. On 8 August, the carrier transited the Strait of Gibraltar, and returned to Mayport on 17 August 2002.

Five days later, John F. Kennedy began the first of three carqual stints before she underwent extended selective restricted availability (ESRA) that concluded on 4 October 2002. The second qualifications period began on 28 October and ended on 5 November. The third and final carquals period began on 3 December and lasted for ten days. While engaged in the last qualifications period, the crew began the ESRA a month ahead of the 6 January 2003 scheduled launch date.

After sitting in Mayport for almost a year and undergoing the $300 million extended selected restricted availability, John F. Kennedy was finally underway again on 11 November 2003. During this underway period, she conducted five days of sea trials with a green crew, nearly half of them had never been underway in the ship.

Captain Henderson turned over command to Captain Stephen G. Squires on 8 April 2004. A little less than two months later, on 2 June 2004, the Navy announced the simultaneous deployment of seven carrier strike groups (CSGs) to demonstrate the Navy’s ability to provide credible combat power across the globe by operating in five theaters with other U.S., allied and coalition military forces. Dubbed Summer Pulse ’04, this exercise was the first of the Navy’s new Fleet Response Plan (FRP) slated to result in increased force readiness and the ability to provide combat power in response to a crisis. Along with John F. Kennedy, the other carriers involved were George Washington, John C. Stennis, Kitty Hawk (CV-63), Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), Enterprise (CVN-65), and Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).

John F. Kennedy, operating as part of Summer Pulse ’04, completed Combined Joint Task Force Exercise (CJTFEX) 04-2, or Operation Blinding Storm, in June. The exercise marked the first Joint National Training Capability (JNTC) integration event, during which training focused on functional coalition component commands. All elements of the U.S. services were involved, as was the British carrier HMS Invincible. The carrier, with CVW-17 (VF-103, VFA-34, VFA-81 and VFA-83, VAQ-132, VS-30, VAW-125 and HS-15) embarked, got underway, accompanied by Vicksburg, Spruance, Roosevelt, Toledo, and Seattle and steamed east in support of the Global War on Terror.

After a port visit to Malta (26-30 June 2004), John F. Kennedy transited the Suez Canal (2-3 July) and on 10 July, launched her first aircraft in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, providing critical overhead support for Multi-National Corps-Iraq and Iraqi forces. On 20 July, CVW-17, John F. Kennedy’s air wing, destroyed two anti-Iraqi positions. This was the strike group’s first active engagement of anti-Iraqi targets in support of Multinational Corps-Iraq and Iraqi forces. An F-14 Tomcat dropped GBU-12 and an F/A-18C Hornet GBU-32 guided bombs on the enemy positions.

On 22 July 2004, while conducting night flight operations in international waters during the first watch, John F. Kennedy collided with, and sank, a dhow. The carrier and HMS Somerset immediately launched helicopters and small boats to search for survivors. U.S. Navy P-3 Orions assisted in the unsuccessful search and rescue operations.

John F. Kennedy’s second encounter with one of the ubiquitous wood and sail craft that ply the waters of the region, however, ended more happily. On 14 August 2004, guided missile cruiser Mobile Bay (CG-53) received a distress signal from the Iranian cargo dhow Naji, in the North Arabian Gulf, six souls on board, and relayed it to John F. Kennedy, which dispatched two of HS-15’s Seahawks to the scene. Meanwhile, a P-3C Orion from VP-9 monitored the craft and coordinated the rescue efforts.

“We thought we were dead,” Mortada G. Asfendeary told his rescuers through Aviation Structural Mechanic Airman Moataz Ghonem of HS-15, who translated his remarks, “We made smoke so people would see us. Three boats passed us before the helicopter came to get us.” “Thank you,” said Naser Afendeary, another member of Naji’s crew, “Thank you, America.” As Captain Squires summed it up: “It was about Sailors helping Sailors.” After spending eight hours on board the carrier receiving medical attention, showers, and a hot meal (“They drank lots of tea,” recounted Captain Thomas E. Hatley, MC, the carrier’s senior medical officer), the six Iranian mariners, bearing toiletries, JFK T-shirts, boots, coveralls, and tea for the trip back home, were transferred to Vicksburg for repatriation to an Iranian civil authorities boat.

On 5 October 2004, Captain Dennis E. Fitzpatrick relieved Captain Squires in command, and four days later, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, accompanied by the defense ministers of 18 countries assisting the United States in the Global War on Terror, flew out from Bahrain to visit the ship. A former naval aviator, Rumsfeld noted that the first time he ever trod the decks of a U.S. naval vessel was when his father, hangar deck officer in the escort carrier Hollandia (CVE-97), took him to visit his ship. “It is indeed a personal privilege,” Rumsfeld told the crew, “for this son of a Navy man and an old broken down naval aviator himself, to be with you here on this great day.”

“I cannot think of a better place,” Rumsfeld declared, “for my fellow ministers of defense to witness America’s finest demonstration of what great patriots they are…” Rumsfeld also re-enlisted 80 Sailors, and presented 17 with their warfare designations, thanking those who had re-enlisted “for your dedication to stay in the service of our nation, to keep our military forces strong with your experience and your professionalism. I certainly want to say you make us all proud.”

The war in Iraq, meanwhile, continued, often with unbridled ferocity. Operation Phantom Fury, later redesignated al Fajr, Arabic for “dawn,” began on 7–8 November 2004, to wrest control of al Fallujah, approximately 30 miles west of Baghdad, from several thousand insurgents and terrorists, in preparation for the Iraqi national elections slated for on 30 January 2005. Well dug into strongholds, command posts and bunker complexes, lavishly equipped and stiffened by religious zealots, jihadis (Muslim volunteers, many from madrassas, religious schools, whipped into a frenzy by their mullahs and by drugs), the enemy determined to resist to the last with fanaticism rivaling that displayed by foes encountered in the Pacific in World War II and in Vietnam.

Marines from the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), supported by the Army’s 1st Hell for Leather Cavalry Division and Iraqi security forces, found themselves quickly embroiled in some of the fiercest house-to-house fighting since 1968 at Hué, in the Vietnam War. While flying preliminary missions on 6 November, aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, pounded seven separate Iraqi weapons caches in just eight hours. Weather played a key role in the battle, the low ceiling forcing fixed-wing aircraft to fly lower than normal standards and for more involvement by helos, the enemy taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by firing SAMs, anti-aircraft artillery, small arms, and even rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at aircraft. More ominously, the terrorists repeatedly violated international laws, fighting from 26 mosques, including the Khulafah Al Rashid, one of Fallujah’s most revered centers of Islamic worship, and from three hospitals, including the Ar Ramadi General Hospital and Medical College. Marines also discovered terrorist “slaughterhouses” where hostages had been tortured and murdered, showing the merciless nature of the adversaries faced in Iraq.

In Fallujah’s crowded streets, avoiding collateral damage to civilians rendered crucial the employment of precision-guided munitions. Al Fajr marked the combat debut of GBU-38 500-pound JDAMs, guidance kits converting unguided bombs into precision-guided “smart” munitions, utilizing global positioning system (GPS) navigation, when F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-34, flying from John F. Kennedy, dropped two against insurgents in Fallujah. Dealing a serious blow to the terrorists and insurgents, the liberation of the city proved instrumental in paving the way for the successful elections. CVW-17 aircraft flew an average of 38 missions a day in support of Marines and soldiers on the ground. “Our success at Fallujah as an air wing,” Captain Mark Guadagnini, the air wing commander, later declared, “is a testament to the Sailors that work on the ships and on the flight deck. We couldn’t afford to fail. The international community and the Iraqi nation were depending upon us.”

Ultimately, following a vertical ammunition replenishment and turnover ceremonies, the Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) Battle Group relieved John F. Kennedy;s on 20 November 2004 in the Arabian Gulf. The veteran carrier and her air wing transited the Suez Canal, homeward-bound, on 26 November, and visited Tarragona, Spain, as the last port call of the deployment (29 November-4 December). Transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on 5 December, John F. Kennedy flew off CVW-17 on 12 December, then returned to Mayport the following day (13 December 2004). A little over a fortnight later, however, on 30 December, the Navy announced the intention to decommission the ship.

Word of her pending inactivation notwithstanding, John F. Kennedy spent the first quarter of 2005 "focused on maintaining 'Surge deployment' readiness under the Fleet Response Plan." The ship logged 818 arrested landings by the end of January 2005, and the following month participated in a pierside Multi-Battle Group Inport Exercise (MBGIE) that involved ships and staffs out of Norfolk , Mayport, as well as the United Kingdom (7-11 February). During the Surge Sustainment underway period (15-24 February), John F. Kennedy conducted carrier qualifications for CVW-17 pilots, logging 392 day and 262 night traps. Upon conclusion of that training period, the ship hosted 4,000 "friends and family" guests (25 February).

John F. Kennedy completed her Surge sustainment on 11 March, beginning an ammunition offload of conventional ordnance with Theodore Roosevelt and the Military Sealift Command ammunition ship USNS Mount Baker (T-AE-34) on that date. Released from her Surge readiness requirements on 12 March, the ship received word over a fortnight later of the cancellation of her scheduled 15-month complex overhaul at Norfolk on 1 April. Her crew decreased from 2,870 to 2,215 for the remainder of 2005, the manning deemed necessary to carry out carrier qualifications and, if the occasion demanded, hurricane evacuation. Despite the down-sizing of her crew, John F. Kennedy's people carried out the "concentrated, continuous maintenance periods" that punctuated her underway operations, performing more than 90% of the work usually handled by contractors. Later that spring, the signing of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act on 11 May 2005 ended speculation about an imminent decommissioning, requiring the Navy to maintain 12 operational carriers until six months after the publishing of the Quadrennial Defense Review projected for February of the following year.

Underway from Mayport on 16 May 2005, John F. Kennedy, with CVW-17 and 500 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), recently returned from a combat deployment in Iraq, embarked, visited Boston, hosting 65,000 visitors (19-23 May). She then visited New York City during Fleet Week 2005 (25 May-1 June), playing host to an additional 10,000 visitors daily during that period. Disembarking Commander Carrier Strike Group 8 and his staff on 30 May, John F. Kennedy sailed for Norfolk on 1 June. Disembarking the 24th MEU at Norfolk the following day. Underway for Mayport on 7 June, the ship reached her home port on 8 June.

John F. Kennedy conducted Training Command (TraCom) carrier qualifications at the end of July (26-31 July 2005), then returned to Mayport on 1 August. A little over a month later, on 8 September, the ship got underway for Norfolk as Hurricane Ophelia threatened northern Florida, proceeding to sea as Commander Task Group 183.2 (Hurricane Sortie Commander); during the evolution, the carrier's engineering force lit-off the boilers and permitted the ship to get underway within ten hours of the order. After remaining in-port at Norfolk (10-16 September) as Ophelia "slowly and erratically moved up the east coast," John F. Kennedy conducted TraCom carrier qualifications en route back to Mayport (1,189 day and 230 night traps), ultimately returning to her home port on 28 September. She conducted more TraCom carquals the following month (25-29 October), then participated in a Multi-ship Inport Training Exercise (14-18 November), and then carried out one more stint of TraCom qualifications between 9 and 14 December, logging her 20,000th arrested landing since her 2003 ESRA the first day out.