The Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush returned from a grueling deployment in style over the weekend, pulling into its homeport at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia with its battle flag flying proudly from the warship’s main island.

Photos published to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service on April 23 show the Bush’s blue-and-yellow battle flag flapping in the wind in what may be some of the first public images of the banner since the aircraft carrier was commissioned in 2009.

USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier battle flag
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), along with the staff of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10, returns to Naval Station Norfolk following an eight-month deployment, April 23, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anderson W. Branch)

As any regular reader of Task & Purpose knows, we’re big fans of the history behind Navy warships’ battle flags, and the Bush’s is no exception. Like the ship’s seal, the flag was designed with the vessel’s namesake, President George H.W. Bush, and the history of naval aviation in mind. The flag is bordered with what appears to be a ring of 41 stars, commemorating Bush’s time as the nation’s 41st president; the white ‘77’ is for the vessel’s hull classification of CVN-77; and the motto on the edge, ‘Freedom at Work,’ comes adapted from Bush’s inaugural speech as president in 1988, during which he proclaimed, “We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right.”

One of the most interesting elements of the battle flag is the silhouettes of aircraft flying against a yellow path cutting across the flag’s blue field. Those aircraft are the same as the ship’s seal, symbolizing the “past, present, and future” of naval aviation: a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, which Bush flew as a naval aviator during World War II; an F/A-18 Hornet fighter that’s a fixture in the Navy; and the F-35C Lightning II that’s slowly but surely being rolled out to carrier strike groups across the fleet.

“Since taking command before deployment, I have had the privilege and honor to serve with the finest warriors, teachers, leaders, and ambassadors in the U.S. Navy,” said Bush commanding officer Capt. Dave Pollard in a statement upon the carrier’s return to Norfolk. “Our Sailors serve our great nation honorably, exemplifying the service, grit, humility, and resilience of our namesake, President George Herbert Walker Bush, throughout his life of service to family and country.”

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While heavy praise for their crews is a standard for command statements upon returning from a deployment, Pollard isn’t blowing smoke when it comes to the intensity of Bush and its associated Carrier Strike Group 10, which is comprised of Carrier Air Wing 7, Destroyer Squadron 26 (made up of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Nitze, USS Truxtun, and USS Delbert D. Black), the Information Warfare Commander, and the Ticonderga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf. Their deployment in the Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa area of operations occurred during Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the resulting rally of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies around their collective defense. 

During the deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, Bush and CSG 10 participated in “a multitude of multinational exercises to increase NATO capability and deter aggression in the region,” according to the statement, including conducting multi-carrier operations with fellow aircraft carrier groups from the Italian Navy, French Navy, and Spanish Navy. The Bush also participated in the largest bilateral U.S.-Israeli military exercise in history.

“I am extremely proud of Captain Pollard and the teamwork, professionalism, and grit the Avengers brought to the strike group team,” said Rear Adm. Dennis Velez, commander of CSG 10, in a statement. “They excelled during a very challenging deployment where we demonstrated the awesome power of a U.S. Navy carrier strike group to our partners and allies while messaging our adversaries that we were ready to defend every inch of NATO territory.”

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