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Aircraft carrier Carl Vinson returns to San Diego after deployment that included Osama bin Laden burial

June 15, 2011 |  5:55 am

Vinson1 The U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson is set to return to San Diego on Wednesday after an eventful seven-month deployment, including being the platform for the at-sea burial of Osama bin Laden.

The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carrier was in the north Arabian Sea on May 1 when Navy SEALs confronted and killed the Al Qaeda leader in his Pakistan hideout. His body, after DNA testing, was airlifted to the Vinson and quickly buried at sea.

Navy officials have declined to provide additional information about the burial to prevent such details from heightening tensions between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

In a telephone interview Monday, as the ship steamed toward its home port, the Vinson's commanding officer, Capt. Bruce Lindsey, would say only that the vessel and its crew carried out its orders. "I'm pretty sure we executed that mission very, very well."

He dismissed the plans of Fallbrook, Calif., diver Bill Warren, who has said he wants to lead an underwater expedition to find and photograph Bin Laden's body.

"I'm sure he'll need a heck of a lot of money," Lindsey told reporters. "And he'll have to live a long time."

Lindsey was more willing to discuss the rest of the deployment, including efforts to disrupt pirates in the Persian Gulf/Gulf of Oman region, training with forces of half a dozen nations and providing 95 days of combat air missions to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Vinson's air wing completed 1,600 sorties, dropping 17,000 pounds of ordnance and firing 2,900 rounds of 20-millimeter ammunition. With U.S. warplanes overhead, insurgents are reluctant to venture into the open, Lindsey said.

"Hopefully our persistence there is breaking the enemy's will to engage," he said.

Family members and friends of the 5,000-plus sailors and Marines aboard are expected to crowd the dock of Coronado's North Island Naval Air Station as the Vinson completes a deployment that saw the vessel sail 60,206 nautical miles. Nearly 1,000 family members joined the ship in Hawaii for the final leg of the voyage to San Diego Bay.

Unlike some deployments during which crew members enjoy numerous liberty ports, the Vinson remained at sea constantly, long enough to qualify the crew for a "beer holiday," when each member gets a maximum of two beers, Lindsey said.

"Providing air power is hard work," he said.

However, along with the work there was some entertainment, he said, including visits by San Diego Padres players, members of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, and the comic Gallagher.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. Credit: U.S. Navy