Union Tribune

March 20, 2003

S.D.-based cruiser fired some of first shots


ABOARD THE CONSTELLATION The war against Iraq began with business as usual aboard this San Diego-based aircraft carrier.

But it was a different story some miles away aboard the Bunker Hill, a San Diego-based cruiser that fired some of the first shots of the war with a sustained volley of Tomahawk cruise missiles against what President Bush called "selective targets" around Baghdad.

The first of the 18-foot-long missiles came out of the San Diego-based warship's vertical launch system at 5:15 a.m. local time, apparently delayed by the need to program in last-minute targeting information. The missiles come out of the launchers with a ship-shaking roar and a cloud of glowing white smoke. Then they trace a trail of flame across the horizon as they start a trip of about 500 miles into central Iraq.

Bunker Hill fired 13 Tomahawks before its launch ended in early morning light, 45 minutes later.

It was unclear from here if any of the other San Diego-based warships in the Constellation battle group took part in the opening salvo.

The carrier was in the middle of a regularly scheduled launch when television news reported the first explosions in the Baghdad area.

There was no general quarters, no frantic scurrying around the carrier, which continued to conduct patrols in the southern Iraq no-fly zone.

Its aircraft made 24 strikes, though none was part of the attack on Baghdad. Instead, they were "response" missions to Iraqi firings on allied planes in the "no-fly zone," officials said. However, two EA-6B electronic jamming planes from the carrier helped jam Iraqi air defense systems for the F-117 stealth fighters that joined in the Baghdad attack.

Yesterday, the top Navy commander in the region gave a "get ready" exhortation as final preparations for combat were made aboard the carrier.

"Get ready. It's coming," Vice Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. and coalition naval forces in the Persian Gulf and nearby waters, told hundreds of sailors and Marines in Constellation's hangar bay.

The prevailing view among the assembled sailors and Marines was the desire to get things started.

"The sooner the better for us to do our job and get back home," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Fadide of La Mesa.