USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea -- Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) has been the first to do a lot of things. The "Big E" was the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the first carrier to respond to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
On April 29, 1986, Enterprise did something that no other nuclear-powered carrier had ever done - she transited the Suez Canal, the world's largest man-made canal, adding another first to an already long list of accomplishments.
The 1986 transit brought Enterprise back into the Mediterranean for the first time in 22 years, as she shifted homeports from Alameda, Calif., back to Norfolk, Va., where she was originally commissioned in 1961.
Twenty-six years later, on Oct. 12, the "Big E" passed through the Suez Canal for the final time as she transitioned from the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR) to U.S. 6th Fleet AOR, entering the Mediterranean Sea for the last time.
The transit marks the beginning of the last leg of the carrier's historic 25th and final deployment, after seven months of operations at sea.
The Suez Canal is a 120-mile long, 79-foot-deep canal that runs through Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, allowing mariners to transit from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and vice versa.
Because the canal is so shallow and narrow, the transit puts the skills of even the most seasoned helmsman to the test, as the canal was not originally designed to accommodate ships the size of an aircraft carrier. In fact, the evolution usually takes anywhere from 14-20 hours to complete.
"Planning for this type of evolution starts months out to try to minimize any hiccups," said Chief Quartermaster Craig J. Bowman. "We (Navigation department) lay out the ship's planned track with proposed or planned times to be at certain places. Other departments on the ship take the information we provide and plan when and where they can or can't do evolutions - or when they need to shut off or stop certain services."
Because Enterprise was the first to make the historic journey through the Suez Canal, those involved in its current transit believe that there is a bit of reverence in having the honor to take the "Big E" through "the Ditch" for the final time.
"To bring Enterprise through the Suez Canal for the last time is certainly an honor," said Cmdr. Donald Kennedy, Enterprise's navigator. "For more than 50 years, Big E Sailors have expertly stood the long watches required to navigate Enterprise safely. To be among the last to see her through the Suez Canal will no doubt be one of the most memorable experiences of my career."
Many "Big E" crewmembers agree that it is an honor to be involved with the final cruise and Suez Canal transit of the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The cruise marks a milestone in not only their careers, but their lives as well.
"Being involved in the planning of the transit is something that no one can take away from me or anyone else on the Navigation team," said Bowman. "I went through as a QM1 (quartermaster first class) and I am coming out as a QMC (chief quartermaster). Just adding that to the transit makes this that much more memorable for me."
Enterprise is scheduled to return to its homeport of Norfolk at the end of its current deployment to begin its inactivation process after 51 years of service.