USS Carl Vinson was commissioned on 13 March 1982 at Newport News, Virginia, with Captain Richard Martin commanding. Present were the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Thomas B. Hayward,Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman, Keynote speaker SenatorJohn Tower, and ship's sponsor Molly Snead. After commissioning,USS Carl Vinson put to sea to conduct flight deck certifications, an evaluation designed to test the ship’s ability to conduct Modern US Navy carrier air operations. That was followed by numerous at sea periods for various training evolutions along the East Coast.
Carl Vinson departed Norfolk on 1 March 1983 with Carrier Air Wing Fifteen (CVW-15) embarked for her maiden deployment, an eight-month around the world cruise to her new homeport of Naval Air Station Alameda, California, arriving on 28 Oct. 1983.
Carl Vinson participated in RIMPAC '84 before departing on 14 October 1984 for an overseas deployment in the Western Pacific.Carrier Air Wing Fifteen (CVW-15) was embarked. From January until April 1985, Carl Vinson was in the Indian Ocean for 107 consecutive days. The WESTPAC deployment included Sea of Japan operations while pursuing a Soviet CHARLIE I submarine in the Indian Ocean.
The carrier received her first Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations conducted from November 1984 to May 1985. In February, the Chief of Naval Operations named Carl Vinsonthe winner of the Admiral James H. Flatley Memorial Award for operational readiness and aviation safety for 1984.
On 12 August 1986 the ship departed Alameda for a western Pacific deployment, again with CVW-15 aboard, and in the process became the first modern U.S. aircraft carrier to operate in the Bering Sea. In January 1987, after operating extensively in the Indian Ocean and North Arabian Sea, Carl Vinson transited the Bering Sea once more while returning to NAS Alameda.
Carl Vinson and CVW-15 departed for the ship's fourth overseas deployment on 15 June 1988. While on station the carrier supported Operation Earnest Will, the escort of U.S. flagged tankers in the Persian Gulf. The carrier returned to the States on 16 December 1988 and was awarded the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award for aviation safety for 1988.
On 18 September 1989 the carrier departed Alameda to participate in PACEX '89, the largest peacetime naval exercisesince the Second World War. During the exercise Carl Vinson operated in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands, eventually leading a three carrier battle group operation in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. Carl Vinson had a port call in Pusan, South Korea and then returned to her home port of Alameda shortly after the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Vinson departed on her fifth deployment (again with CVW-15) on 1 February 1990, the last deployment for the A-7 Corsair. The ship returned to Alameda on 30 July 1990. On 22 September 1990, Carl Vinson entered the yards at Bremerton Naval Station, Washington for a 28-month complex overhaul (COH). The carrier received her first COMNAVAIRPAC Battle "E" award for 1990.
On 17 February 1994 the carrier, with Carrier Air Wing Fourteen embarked, departed for the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch. The carrier returned to Alameda on 17 August 1994, receiving her third Admiral Flatley Award for aviation safety.
In 1995, a documentary entitled "Carrier: Fortress at Sea" was aired on theDiscovery Channel, which chronicled the carrier's six month-long voyage to and from the Persian Gulf.
From 26 August until 3 September 1995, Vinson participated in Exercise Ke Koa, as well as ceremonies to commemorate the end of World War II in thePacific. During these ceremonies, President Bill Clinton visited the ship in Hawaii. As part of the commemoration ceremonies, Vinson launched 11 WWII era planes.
The ship departed for her seventh deployment 14 May 1996, heading for the Persian Gulf with CVW-14 in support for Operation Southern Watch and Operation Desert Strike. The ship also participated in Exercise Rugged Nautilus before returning to Alameda on 14 November 1996.
With the closing of Naval Air Station Alameda, the ship was transferred to Bremerton, Washington, arriving at her new homeport on 17 January 1997, where she played host to the last carrier launch and recovery operations for the A-6E Intruder.
In 1998 with Carrier Air Wing Eleven (CVW-11) embarked, the ship participated in RIMPAC '98 before departing for the Persian Gulf, launching airstrikes on 19 December 1998 in support of Operation Desert Fox and Operation Southern Watch. These strikes continued into March 1999. In July 1999, Carl Vinson was drydocked in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for 13 months as the Navy spent more than $230 million to upgrade the ship. Post refit shakedowns continued into 2000.
On 12 April 2010 the carrier arrived at her new home port of Naval Station North Island, San Diego California.
On 11 April 2011 while operating in the Arabian Sea, an F/A-18 Hornet suffered an engine fire immediately after launch from the carrier. The aircraft returned to the carrier with one engine and the fire was extinguished without any damage to the ship or any injuries to the pilot or ship crew members.
The ship docked in Hong Kong in the Peoples Republic of China on Sunday, 22 May 2011 to take on supplies for its return to homeport San Diego, and to provide photo opportunities to the Chinese press. The ship returned to San Diego on 15 June 2011.