The past year proved to be momentous as Operation Enduring Freedom continued to rely on a wide range of naval aviation assets, and the Naval Air Systems Command team continued to make advances in research, development, and testing. Enduring Freedom marked the unprecedented combat employment of U.S. and allied aircraft carriers.
The three U.S. Navy carriers were under Rear Admiral Tom Zelibor as Commander, Task Force 50, on board the John C. Stennis (CVN-74). Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Enterprise (CVN-65) showed the flexibility and stamina of her crew when she turned away from her homeward transit after a full deployment and headed toward Afghanistan. The Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), John C. Stennis, Kitty Hawk (CV-63), Italian carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, French carrier Charles de Gaulle, and HMS Illustrious arrived on station in rapid order, along with amphibious ships and their AV-8B Harriers. Not since the Korean War had naval air power been so important in a theater where nearby bases for fixed-wing operations were in short supply.