The truth behind the aircraft carriers photo

Here’s a picture that’s picking up steam around the Internet today. A picture of five aircraft carriers in port in Norfolk, Virginia. The chances are pretty good it’s going to show up in your Facebook feed soon.


The accompanying message is only partially correct:

What is wrong with this picture?

The picture is of the five nuclear carriers.

Just like Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

This picture was taken the other day in Norfolk. The Obama Administration ordered 5 nuclear carriers into harbor for “routine” (?) inspections. Heads of the Navy were flabbergasted by the directive.

NORFOLK, VA. (February 8, 2013). The first time since WWII that five (*) aircraft carriers were docked together.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are all in port at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., the world’s largest naval station.

Sources stated that this breached a long standing military protocol in the Navy meant to avoid massive enemy strike on major US forces. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan J. Courtade/Released)

What’s the real story? Welcome to the sequester.

First, the picture was actually taken in mid-December, not this month. Second, none was ordered into port for “routine maintenance.”

The USS Enterprise was retired from the Navy in January. It’s being dismantled.

The USS Eisenhower deployed on Thursday and is on its way to the Middle East to relieve the USS Stennis, which will return to its home port on the West Coast. The Eisenhower was in port for two months to get its flight deck resurfaced.

The USS Harry Truman was to depart on a mission to the Central Command in early February, but Navy officials asked the secretary of defense to cancel that mission, which presumably was to the Persian Gulf where the U.S. has had two aircraft carriers. Now it will have one — the Eisenhower.

The USS Bush was not ordered into port for “routine inspections.” It had been undergoing tests of its ability to have aircraft, which it does not presently have. Its cruise was canceled because of the sequester.

The USS Lincoln also was not ordered into port for routine maintenance. It was in port for a two-year refueling mission, which the Navy has now canceled because of the sequester cuts.

The Truman’s situation is particularly interesting. WTVR TV in Richmond described what happens to people when a deployment is canceled.

Families depend on deployment money to pay bills. Many move home for family support. They are already gone.

Single sailors with children already sent their kids to caretakers.

Many sailors moved out of apartments or homes, have cars in storage and already set up mortgage and phones and bills. This will be a tough adjustment.

Since they are now cancelled, only delayed indefinitely, they could have to leave suddenly if the budget impasse is solved.

The Navy is asking for community help for these 5,000 sailors, giving leniency on bills.

Living arrangements, help with temporary storage, temporary transportation…many of them do not have local family or a support system.

But back to the photo: It originally was paired with a U.S. Navy story about sailors coming home for Christmas:

Home for Christmas: 9 Flattops at Norfolk naval base, December 20, 2012.

With the returns from deployment of the carrier DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER on Dec. 19, and the amphibious ships IWO JIMA and NEW YORK on Dec. 20, the piers at Norfolk’s naval base are about as full up as they’ll ever be.

Five aircraft carriers, four big-deck amphibious assault ships, a full cast of “small boy” surface warships, along with nuclear submarines and support ships, are crowding the base, giving a comfortably snug feeling to the waterfront. Similar scenes — although not with the gathering of flattops seen here — are taking place at other fleet concentration areas like San Diego and Pearl Harbor.

The Navy makes a point of trying to gives its shipboard crews a chance to spend Christmas with their families, and for a few days the percentage of ships underway drops to the lowest point it will be all year. But many of these ships will be gone in two weeks as the pace of operations picks up again.

In a decade or so, scenes such as this at Norfolk could become quite rare, as the fleet is in the midst of a gradual shift from the Atlantic to Pacific. Within a few years, about sixty percent of the U.S. Navy’s ships will be homeported at a Pacific base – virtually a mirror image of the Cold War emphasis on the Atlantic.

The Navy also says the story about this being the first time so many carriers were moored together since Pearl Harbor is untrue.

Not surprisingly, the story was changed, the picture was attached, and the Internet did its thing.