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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 28, 2004

No decision on carrier yet, sailors told

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Navy Secretary Gordon England said yesterday it would be a while before a decision is made on whether an aircraft carrier will be based in Hawai'i.

Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England, who visited sailors aboard the USS Peleliu at Pearl Harbor yesterday, shakes hands with Johnny Kellek, next to Timothy Lechowicz.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"There's still a study under way. ... A lot of different places are a possibility, and until that study is complete we just don't know," England said during a visit with sailors and Marines aboard the USS Peleliu at Pearl Harbor yesterday.

England said the study would be "certainly a matter of months yet, and maybe longer."

The same is true, he said, of the possibility that other ships might be based here.

Local military, government and business leaders hope one of the Navy's 12 carrier battle groups will be based here, which would bring thousands of sailors, their families and civilian jobs to Hawai'i.

In October, military officials said the Pacific Fleet had begun a $1.8 million study on the possibility of basing a carrier group and air wing in Hawai'i. No such study was under way elsewhere, they said.

England told reporters yesterday he has no personal preference, but reiterated Hawai'i's importance to the military.

"We have extensive facilities here. We have a large number of naval sailors and Marines stationed here. It's a very, very important place for our Navy," England said. "We have a very large investment here, so certainly it's going to remain a very important place for the United States Navy."

England, who arrived Thursday on a stopover en route to the Mainland after a series of meetings in Asia, met briefly yesterday with about 100 crew members from the USS Peleliu, a San Diego-based amphibious assault ship returning from a half-year deployment to the Middle East.

The 840-foot Peleliu is the largest of seven ships assigned to Expeditionary Strike Group One, which conducted operations in Iraq, the North Arabian Gulf, Red Sea and Horn of Africa.

"That's what we do — we provide peace and stability around the world," England said. "And we also, of course, defeat the terrorists in this global war on terrorism."

Seaman Timothy Lechowicz, 30, of Albany, N.Y., said he appreciated England's visit. "It shows he's in touch with what's going on, he cares about what's going on. He's not just sitting there in Washington doing nothing."

England began his second term as Navy secretary in October.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.