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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

USS Constellation arrives at Pearl

By Deborah Adamson
Advertiser Staff Writer

USS Constellation petty officers Arman "Kahi" Lagman, left, and Guysen Pauline, both of Waipahu, head for liberty after seven months at sea in support of various missions including Operation Iraqi Freedom. The aircraft carrier arrived yesterday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Wells has a special assignment on O'ahu: find a nice piece of jewelry for his wife for their 10th wedding anniversary.

Not only that, the native of Flint, Mich., planned to golf, shop, take in a lu'au and bodyboard after his aircraft carrier, the USS Constellation, docked in Pearl Harbor yesterday morning.

"It's great to be back in the U.S.," said Wells, 34. "It's a huge relief."

Nearly 7,500 sailors on the carrier and other vessels in its escort group arrived in Hawai'i after a seven-month deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The sailors, and the estimated 1,000 family members meeting them, are expected to spend more than $6 million during their six-day shore leave in Hawai'i, according to the Pacific Fleet. As their dollars ripple through the economy, however, the economic impact they leave behind could reach $10 million.

About 5,700 sailors are on shore at any one time while the remainder maintain operations of the carrier group.

The Constellation's crew is one of the largest military groups to disembark in the Islands this year, said Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. J.G. Mike Morley. The USS Abraham Lincoln arrived with a similar number of crew members in late April but stayed only overnight.

With the Constellation "strike group" came two cruisers, a destroyer, a frigate and a combat support ship. It's the first shore leave for the sailors at a U.S. port. All but one vessel docked in Pearl Harbor; the supply ship went to Maui.

Lt. Tyler Nekomoto, center, an F/A-18C pilot from Kaua'i, was greeted by his parents, David and Doris, who flew over to see their son for the first time in seven months.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

"These guys have been drawing tax-free paychecks for several months, and there are very few places to spend it," Morley said. "Maybe they'll bring the whole family and live it up."

Factoring in the "multiplier effect" of each dollar spent, the total amount flowing into the economy from the Constellation's visit could reach nearly $10 million, said Eugene Tian, chief of the tourism research branch at the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

In addition, 800 sailors could extend their stay in the Islands, Morley said. They are flying back to the Mainland to make room for family members who will sail with the carrier to its home port in San Diego on Tuesday.

"It's a significant injection to the economy," said Leroy Laney, professor of economics and finance at Hawai'i Pacific University. "They eat at restaurants, they travel to other islands, they rent cars and family could be joining them."

Although the number of sailors and family members visiting represents only 2 percent of March's Mainland visitors, every bit of business is welcome, Tian said.

A little perspective also helps: a cruise ship averages about 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members. The strike group accompanying the Constellation and their relatives more than double the rolls.

The sailors' patronage is well-timed and sorely needed by Waikiki hotels, which have been hurt by slowing trade from Japan caused by fears of war, severe accurate respiratory syndrome and a poor economy in Japan.

Perry Sorenson, chief operating officer of the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, said Outrigger considers the military "an important part of our market."

Hotels typically offer discounts to the military personnel. The Outrigger chain, for instance, discounts room rates by 25 percent to 35 percent, similar to kama'aina prices.

Small businesses and franchise outlets benefit as well. Pizza Hut typically sees a 10 percent to 20 percent jump in business at its Pearl Harbor restaurant when sailors arrive, according to the Theo H. Davies Food Service Group. The group holds the state franchise for the pizza chain and Taco Bell. The other 32 Pizza Huts in O'ahu also experience a bump in sales, but not as dramatic a rise as at the Pearl Harbor outlet.

Petty Officer 1st Class Wells plans to enjoy himself on O'ahu before sailing to meet his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 8, in San Diego.

Maybe he'll even take in a tour. But one thing he doesn't plan to do is boogie all night.

"I don't dance," he said.

Reach Deborah Adamson at 525-8088 or dadamson@honoluluadvertiser.com.