The ship completed her first extended drydocking selected restricted availability from 14 November 1995 to 6 December 1996. Abraham Lincoln sailed from NAS Alameda in what her historian called a “Noah’s Ark Cruise” over 14 to 17 November. The vessel earned the sobriquet because she embarked with approximately 80 family members of crewmembers, and with 600 personally owned vehicles crammed onto the flight deck. Abraham Lincoln arrived three days later at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash. The ship offloaded ordnance at Port Hadlock, Wash., on 13 December, and finished the year moored to Pier Bravo at Bremerton. During 1995, Abraham Lincoln recorded 208 days at sea, together with 10,190 total landings—9,439 traps (5,511 daytime, 3,928 nighttime, and 751 ‘touch and go’); 1,048 helo sorties (621 day and 427 night); and 4,643 carrier controlled approaches.
During the availability, the ship established her first major home web page on the Internet, utilizing HTML/JAVA formats. The Radiomen (RM) of the ship’s company noted that this permitted them to enter “the information superhighway with full force.” Sailors recorded more than 75,000 hits on the site during the first six months of operation. Additional work included: the upgrade of the WLR-1 Electronic Surveillance system from V3 to V5; installation of the SPS-48E Air Search Radar, SYS-2 Integrated Automatic Direction System, and three AN/USM-636A(V)1 and two AN/USM-636(V)3 Consolidated Automated Support System stations; the removal of the AN/USM-467 Radar Communication Test Station and the 128SEAV14175-21 Maintenance Adapter Test Console, both in support of A-6E Intruders, in order to make room for the AN/APM-376(V) Radar Test Bench set; the removal of three AN/USM-274(V) Versatile Avionics Shop Test stations, one AN/USM-470(V)2 Tailored Mini Vast station, one AN/ASA-82 Dynamic Alignment Test Set station; and the conversion of the refrigeration systems from R-12 to the environmentally friendly R-134a refrigerant.
Crewmembers served in many ways during the availability, and four sailors from the ship saved a local civilian from drowning in a nearby lake on 19 February 1996. Two of the men received Navy Marine Corps Medals, and the other pair received Navy Achievement Medals. The Carrier Intelligence Center established a crossdecking program with the Army’s I Corps at Fort Lewis, Wash. This program enabled sailors to maintain their proficiencies during intelligence operations. Some Abraham Lincoln Intelligence Specialists deployed with Kitty Hawk and Nimitz. Twenty-seven sailors were also detached for weapons assembly and flight line issue of ordnance during training with CVW-14 at NAS Fallon, Nev.
The crew held fairs to celebrate their change of homeports on 6 and 11 May and on 26 October. The carrier floated from drydock to Pier Bravo at the shipyard, eight days ahead of schedule on 8 August 1996, and the crew began to move back on board on 4 September. In preparation for Abraham Lincoln’s return to sea, the ship held dock trials from 18 to 20 November, and then a fast cruise over 23 to 27 November. The shipyard experienced an accident during this period, when some of the one gallon lube oil spilled on 26 November. Sailors and workers eventually cleaned-up the mess. The ship put to sea again to accomplish sea trials, during which she recorded 196 aircraft landings from 30 November to 6 December.
An F/A-18C Hornet of VMFA-314 crashed in a ramp strike during night flight deck certifications on 4 December. The marine pilot ejected safely onto the flight deck, but the Hornet skidded off the flight deck and into the water. The jet thus suffered what the Navy identified as “Class A” damage, and the service struck it from inventory.
The ship accomplished additional night flight deck certification in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, and performed 256 fixed-wing aircraft launches and recoveries from 27 to 31 January 1997. Abraham Lincoln visited Esquimalt near Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, from 31 January to 3 February 1997. The ship participated in testing AGM-154A Joint Standoff Weapons (JSOWs) during February. These 1,000-pound air-to-surface glide weapons were designed to enable bombers to launch the JSOWs from a range of 15 to 40 miles from their target areas, thus allowing the weapons to remain outside the envelope of enemy point defenses.
Abraham Lincoln conducted carrier qualifications, during which aircraft completed 3,378 launches and recoveries, from 6 to 25 March. Vice Adm. He, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (Navy) Vice CNO, embarked overnight on 21 March. The carrier accomplished fleet replacement squadron carrier qualifications from 8 to 20 May, and again over 17 to 27 June, recording 1,924 fixed-wing aircraft launches and traps. Abraham Lincoln completed CVW-14 carrier qualifications, and accomplished 1,508 fixed-wing aircraft launches and recoveries over 14 to 21 July. The ship also participated in a series of training exercises, including Tailored Ship’s Training Availability I (TSTA I). She took part in the Seattle Seafair during this period. Aircraft performed a flight operations demonstration in Elliot Bay for over 1,500 guests on 6 August 1997.
Abraham Lincoln completed CVW-14 carrier qualifications, accomplishing 2,448 fixed-wing aircraft launches and recoveries, from 4 to 28 September. The ship also took part in a series of training exercises, including TSTA II and TSTA III. She accomplished further fleet replacement squadron carrier qualifications, recording 1,546 fixed-wing aircraft launches and recoveries, from 1 to 13 October, and on 11 October took part in San Francisco Fleet Week activities. Abraham Lincoln completed CVW-14 carrier qualifications, completing 798 fixed-wing aircraft launches and traps, from 22 to 29 November.
The carrier, with CVW-14 embarked, took part in CompTuEx 98-1 and Intermediate Training Assessment, from 29 November to 20 December 1997. The ship recorded a total of 3,412 fixed-wing launches and traps. The Battle Force Intermediate Maintenance Activity on board Abraham Lincoln accomplished five actual aircraft repair and “fly-offs” for guided missile cruiser Shiloh (CG-67), destroyer Merrill (DD-976), and Canadian multi-role patrol frigate Ottawa (FFH.341).
During 1997, the ship’s damage control team developed, tested, and implemented a complete restructuring of the Rescue and Assistance Detail and Inport Emergency Team. Vice Adm. Brent M. Bennitt, Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific, approved the concept as a permanent change to the Fleet’s Repair Party Manual. At one point during the year, a critically ill sailor on board destroyer Fletcher (DD-992) required medical evacuation for immediate attention. Abraham Lincoln suspended night flight operations and steamed nearly 300 nautical miles at high speed to close to within helicopter range of the destroyer. A helo lifted the ailing sailor from Fletcher and flew her to the carrier, where the medical team stabilized her for follow-on transport to Balboa Medical Center in San Diego. Capt. James J. Quinn relieved Capt. Willard as the Commanding Officer on 18 February 1998. The ship visited Esquimalt from 26 February to 2 March.
Abraham Lincoln deployed from NS Everett to the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf on 11 June 1998. This deployment marked the first time that the ship embarked an Aviation Optometrist for the entire cruise, who provided 1,200 eye exams as well as treatment to the ship’s company. Abraham Lincoln also embarked en enhanced mobile Explosive Ordnance Disposal detachment. The carrier moored at NAS North Island in order to onload CVW-14 on 16 and 17 June. She loaded the F-14D Tomcats of VF-31, F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-25, VFA-113, and VFA-115, E-2C Hawkeyes of VAW-113, EA-6B Prowlers of VAQ-139, Lockheed ES-3A Shadows of VQ-5 Detachment B, S-3B Vikings of VS-35, C-2A Greyhounds of VRC-30 Detachment 1, and SH-60F and HH-60H Seahawks of HS-4.
Abraham Lincoln reached the Seventh Fleet on 25 June 1998. The ship celebrated Independence Day in Hong Kong and hosted 200 dignitaries over 4 to 8 July. Sailors noted that the Chinese forces conducted extensive surveillance of the carrier. The carrier visited Singapore en route to the Indian Ocean, where she hosted a state dinner for 40 dignitaries and ambassadors, from 13 to 17 July. The ship entered the Fifth Fleet on 22 July, and two days later transited the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Gulf.
Terrorist threats and clashes between rival Muslim extremists made the Indian Ocean littoral a tinder box for much of this period. During the early 1980s, Saudi émigré Usama bin Lāden and other terrorists had developed al-Qāidah (al-Qa’ida or al-Qaeda—The Base or the International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders) to battle the Soviets in Afghanistan. Following the expulsion of the Marxists from Afghanistan bin Lāden and al-Qāidah refocused their hatred against Westerners supported by the Muslim Brotherhood.
One of the primary goals of bin Lāden’s extremist interpretations of Islam became to drive U.S. armed forces, which he perceived as representing American “infidels” and their policies (which he deemed inconsistent with his Islamic extremism) from the Arabian Peninsula. Bin Lāden issued a fatāwā (Islamic ruling) instructing Muslims of their sacred duty to kill Americans, adding that they could “plunder their [victims’] money,” on 22 February 1998. Several months later, he issued another fatāwā: “The Nuclear Bomb of Islam…” requiring Muslims to use as “…much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God.” An al-Qāidah plan envisioned gaining control of the Arabian Peninsula as a preliminary to the conquest of an Islamic empire stretching from Asia to Europe, comprising two billion people with access to oil and technology.
Al-Qāidah terrorists detonated truck bombs that killed more than 300 people including 12 Americans at the U.S. embassies at Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 7 August 1998. Thirteen days later, President William J. Clinton announced Operation Infinite Reach—retaliatory strikes against the “fanatics and killers” responsible. Abraham Lincoln’s historian noted that the carrier served as the “cornerstone” of Infinite Reach. Abraham Lincoln assumed duties as the area Air Defense Commander, and utilizing her Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Information (C4I) suite, the ship proved pivotal to the mission planning, execution, and dissemination of the initial battle damage assessments of the two simultaneous raids of the operation on two separate continents.
Guided missile cruisers Cowpens (CG-63) and Shiloh, guided missile destroyer Milius (DDG-69), destroyer Elliott (DD-967), and attack submarine Columbia (SSN-771) of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Battle Group, sailing in the North Arabian Sea, fired 73 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) at the Zhawar Kili al-Badr terrorist training and support complex, 30 miles southwest of Khowst, Afghanistan. Destroyers Briscoe (DD-977) and Hayler (DD-997), steaming in the Red Sea, launched six Tomahawks against the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant near Khartoum, Sudan.
Allied intelligence analysts suspected the plant of ties to bin Lāden, and of manufacturing precursor chemicals for the deadly VX series of nerve gas. Critics alleged that the plant did not produce VX, but CIA agents took soil samples that showed evidence of an ingredient of the substance. Detractors retorted that the chemical broke down, and that the mistake led to the deaths of hundreds of Sudanese because of the country’s fragile ability to distribute medications.
Allied planners chose two simultaneous raids as vengeance for the twin terrorist bombings. The strikes only killed 11 terrorists, and missiles hit a nearby Pakistani intelligence training camp, outraging Pakistani agents. President Clinton subsequently directed the Navy to routinely deploy one or more attack submarines in the Indian Ocean, in order for these boats to sail within TLAM range of terrorist training camps across the region. On any given day into the 21st century, at least one such boat prowled silently beneath the waves in that area, awaiting word from the CIA of the discovery of the elusive bin Lāden.
During this tense period, Abraham Lincoln also assumed duties as Air Warfare Commander in the Arabian Gulf, in order to support the redeployment of battle group sailors and marines to accomplish the tasking. Ongoing concerns over Iraqi smuggling forced the ship to surge to participate in Maritime Interception Operations (MIOs) from 23 to 30 August.
The UN began MIOs as coalition efforts to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions imposed against the Iraqis following their invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The organization prohibited cargo originating from Iraq and imports not accompanied by UN authorization letters—the food-for-oil agreement permitted the Iraqis to sell limited amounts of oil to pay for food and medicine. Iraqi criminals, and on occasion, terrorists (including a highly lucrative drug trade that specialized in heroin and methamphetamines to finance terrorist crimes), grew increasingly brazen in their smuggling efforts, and the coalition thus consistently refined MIOs. The Iraqis sold their oil below market value to entice smugglers, and provided naval officers to assist thieves.
The ship also visited Jebel Ali from 10 to 14 August 1998, and participated in Tactical Evolution Exercise 98 over 19 to 25 August. The carrier anchored at Bahrain Bell from 31 August to 2 September. Sailors piped Gen. Henry H. Shelton, USA, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board for a visit on 1 September.
The ship returned to Jebel Ali from 18 to 21 September, and took part in Beacon Flash 98-2 from 19 to 23 September (the carrier participated in the opening phases while still in port). The heat index on the flight deck rose until at times the temperature approached 140°F. Even the waters of the Arabian Gulf could reach a scorching 95°F. “You forget about the heat until you open a hatch to go outside,” 19-year-old Interior Communications Electrician Fireman Angela Nostrand explained, “and then it takes your breath away.”
The ship visited Jebel Ali from 2 to 5 October 1998, put to sea to participate in exercise Red Reef 98 over 3 to 14 October, and from 17 to 20 October returned to Jebel Ali. Abraham Lincoln passed through the Strait of Hormuz outbound on 21 October. During her total time in the area during this deployment, the ship used comprehensive, all-source intelligence to support coalition efforts to shut down illegal gas and oil shipments from embargoed Iraqi ports and facilities. The carrier supported UN Resolutions 661 and 665 for 89 days and two MIO surges. An extensive intelligence exchange between on-scene commanders led to 625 merchant ship queries, 196 cooperative boardings, 17 non-compliant boardings, and eight diverts. Aircraft flew 1,855 Southern Watch sorties from the ship. During 23 scheduled Southern Watch tactical reconnaissance missions, the ship processed more than 18,000 feet of aerial film covering over 100 separate Iraqi targets. Photographers from the ship also cross-decked to guided missile cruisers Cowpens and Valley Forge (CG-50), guided missile frigates Jarrett (FFG-33) and Thach (FFG-43), fast combat support ship Camden (AOE-2), and Ottawa to cover operations, delivering more than 25,000 images to support the carrier battle group.
The ship reached the Seventh Fleet on 26 October, and from 3 to 8 November visited Perth, Australia. Abraham Lincoln continued around the southern portion of Australia and put into Hobart, Tasmania, over 12 to 17 October. Throughout these Australian visits, the ship hosted 250 dignitaries and distinguished guests. The ship entered the Third Fleet on 24 November, and from 27 to 30 November visited NS Pearl Harbor.
Abraham Lincoln moored at NAS North Island to disembark CVW-14 on 7 December 1998, and on 11 December returned to NS Everett. At one point during the deployment, the ship rescued two sailors who fell overboard during a rapid transit of the Pacific, stabilizing and then medically evacuating them. During another case, she responded to a call for emergency assistance from a civilian tanker in the Arabian Gulf, supplying advanced cardiac life support to a victim.
During 1998, the ship logged 12,304 landings (11,961 traps—8,161 daytime, 3,800 nighttime, and 343 ‘touch-and-go’), and 1,006 helo sorties (728 day and 278 night). Abraham Lincoln also extended the concept of the Battle Force Intermediate Maintenance Activity to provide maintenance availabilities not only to ships deployed with the carrier battle group in the Arabian Gulf—but uniquely for a carrier—to attack submarines Columbia and Jefferson City (SSN-759). Civilian technicians from the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division at NAS Lakehurst, N.J., tested and evaluated a titanium piston assembly in Catapult Nos 1 and 3.
The ship visited Esquimalt from 12 to 16 March 1999. While the carrier sailed back to Everett, she held a family cruise and performed carrier qualifications for Grumman EA-6B Prowlers of VAQ-129 and VAQ-139, completing 31 launches and recoveries. The carrier completed a planned incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, from 1 April to 15 September. At one point, a major fire ignited within Abraham Lincoln’s Carrier Intelligence Center that destroyed the APS Tomahawk and TARPS DCRS equipment. Four Combat Systems technicians arrived on the scene first and contained the fire until relieved by the import emergency fire party. Sailors and workers repaired the vital center 30 days earlier than originally projected.
Abraham Lincoln visited San Francisco for Fleet Week and served as the flagship for the Parade of Ships over 9 to 13 October. The vessel hosted more than 4,000 visitors during the three days of visitation, and accomplished carrier qualifications during both legs of the voyage. During 1999, Abraham Lincoln received the DoD Award for the Best Anti-Terrorism Program Afloat.
Alaska Airlines Flight No. 261, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 airliner (Serial No N963AS), crashed into the Pacific Ocean 2.7 miles north of Anacapa Island, Calif., at 1621 on 31 January 2000. The accident killed all the people on board—the pilot, co-pilot, three cabin crewmembers, and 83 passengers. Flight 261 lifted off from Lic Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, en route to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan. The aircraft lost pitch control that resulted from an in-flight failure of the horizontal stabilizer trim system jackscrew assembly’s acme nut threads. Excessive wear caused the thread failure, due to insufficient lubrication of the jackscrew assembly.
Abraham Lincoln supported rescuers that responded to the tragedy, for which the ship uniquely later received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation with Operational Distinguishing Service. The Navy also mapped the accident area with underwater side scanning sonar and video, enabling searchers to recover pieces of wreckage in order to investigate the loss. Some of the naval vessels that participated in recovery operations into the New Year included amphibious transport dock Cleveland (LPD-7), submarine support vessel Kellie Chouest, and fleet ocean tug Sioux (T-ATF-171). Kellie Chouest utilized tethered, unmanned remote vehicle Scorpio during the search operations.
Abraham Lincoln took part in CompTuEx 00-2A from 27 January to 7 February 2000. The ship took part in testing for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program, and collected data on carrier Precision Aided Landing System operations with the upgraded Super Hornets. Sailors of the Air Department accomplished 1,099 aircraft launches and 1,111 recoveries. Crash and Salvage teams responded to nine flight deck emergencies. The ship hosted a reception for approximately 400 dignitaries while anchored off Santa Barbara, Calif.
An F/A-18C Hornet crashed with a sheared main mount on 9 February. Sailors removed the aircraft from the landing area, salvaged, and subsequently craned the jet off the carrier. The ship offloaded an F-14 Tomcat aircraft crash and salvage dud (utilized for training to familiarize sailors in accident response procedures) to NAS North Island on 15 February. Raytheon Company technicians and sailors of the Ship’s Company installed the IT21 local area network modification from 26 March to 14 August. The project involved the installation of cables, breakers, transformers, power panels, and receptacles throughout Abraham Lincoln. The carrier held a family cruise for about 1,900 people as she steamed from Esquimalt to Everett on 17 April. The Prowlers of VAQ-139 and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets completed 47 carrier qualification launches and recoveries.
Capt. Douglas K. Dupouy relieved Rear Adm. James J. Quinn as Commanding Officer of Abraham Lincoln at San Diego on 15 May 2000. The crew then held a reception for about 500 guests and 200 Ship’s Company in Hangar Bay 2. During the major exercise Rim of the Pacific (RimPac 2000) in Hawaiian waters, Abraham Lincoln supported an amphibious ready group and executed 261 aircraft launches and 263 recoveries from 20 to 29 May.
During the 1990s, the Navy had begun to develop a prototype AN/UYQ-89 Area Air Defense Commander (AADC) Capability system. The designers of AADC conceived of the program as a network-based command and control system to provide a three-dimensional display to enhance situational awareness. In particular, the system was to address the existing and emerging ballistic and air threats. Abraham Lincoln and Shiloh tested the performance of the AADC program during RimPac 2000, with Shiloh acting as the antiair warfare commander for the carrier and her group. Vice Adm. Phillip M. Balisle, Commander Abraham Lincoln Carrier Battle Group, noted that the AADC system “…showed outstanding value as a force enabler that will allow a…battle group commander to enter a troubled area and gain control of it quickly…”
Abraham Lincoln deployed to the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf on 17 August 2000. The F-14D Tomcats of VF-31, F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-25, VFA-113, and VFA-115, E-2C Hawkeyes of VAW-113, EA-6B Prowlers of VAQ-139, S-3B Vikings of VS-35, C-2A Greyhounds of VRC-30 Detachment 1, and SH-60F and HH-60H Seahawks of HS-4 embarked with CVW-14.
Just after sunset at one point in September 2000, an airman fell overboard from the flight deck of Abraham Lincoln. Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class David Duvall, standing on watch on the fantail, spotted two blinks of a strobe light and alerted shipmates, who rescued the sailor. “I pretty much saved his life,” Duvall remembered. “That’s something that I can take back to my family as something good that came out of the deployment. I felt good about myself. If I hadn’t really been paying attention, he probably would have been long gone.” The victim suffered a ruptured spleen, but a surgical team from the ship’s Medical Department performed an emergency procedure and stabilized the man.
Abraham Lincoln relieved George Washington and renewed her participated in Operation Southern Watch and in MIOs from 24 September to 3 October. While the ship passed through the Strait of Hormuz, Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore, Jr., Commander Fifth Fleet, made an overnight visit to to meet her leadership, and to explain firsthand to the crew the purpose of their mission. At one point during these operations, the carrier received her initial Guided Bomb Unit modified Command Rack and Launcher Test set upgrades for modified F-14D Tomcat weapons rails. During this period, Abraham Lincoln recorded a total of 557 aircraft launches and 598 recoveries, and crash and salvage crews responded to nine flight deck emergencies.
One of these emergencies occurred when Fist 411, an F/A-18C (BuNo 164681), flown by 27-year-old Lt. Bruce J. Donald from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., assigned to VFA-25, crashed shortly after taking off from Abraham Lincoln for a routine test on carrier landings, at 1030 on 29 September 2000. The ship lost communication with the Hornet shortly after the jet’s take off, and the F/A-18C disappeared from the carrier’s radar. Donald died, but searchers recovered his body, which enabled his family to intern the pilot in Arlington National Cemetery on 17 October. Helicopters and four ships searched for the wreckage and discovered small fragments of debris in the water, but failed to locate the bulk of the aircraft. Richard Cochrane, a 27-year-old naval flight officer and classmate of Donald from the 1995 class of the Naval Academy, later ran the 25th Marine Corps Marathon in tribute to his friend.
The ship visited Jebel Ali from 4 to 7 October. Some of the sailors visited an area of shops, beverage stands, and vendors derisively dubbed by sailors as “The Sand Box” because of the lack of amenities and liberty options therein. The liberty parties nonetheless played softball and basketball, participated in go-kart races, and rode camels.
Abraham Lincoln supported Southern Watch from 8 October 2000 to 1 January 2001. The ship accomplished 4,643 aircraft launches and 4,643 recoveries, while crash and salvage sailors responded to 57 flight deck emergencies. During the year, aircraft flew 1,468 combat sorties from the ship, dropping more than 4.7 million pounds of ordnance on Iraqi troops during Southern Watch missions. These weapons included 18 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) and 16 Paveway II guided bomb units during response option strikes. This deployment also marked the first time that the carrier deployed with GPS guided JDAMs and JSOWs as part of her ammunition allowances.
The ship subsequently received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for these battles. The citation notes that her embarked aircrew flew these missions while “in the face of live enemy fire,” that the sailors of the battle group used a policy of “continuous presence and deterrence,” and that they demonstrated “extraordinary dedication to duty, aggressively enforced United Nations sanctions.”
While Abraham Lincoln completed these operations, two al-Qāidah terrorists brought an inflatable Zodiac-type speedboat that carried a bomb alongside guided missile destroyer Cole (DDG-67) while the ship refueled and detonated their lethal cargo, killing 17 sailors and wounding 42 more in Aden, Yemen, on 12 October 2000. Damage control efforts saved Cole. The vessels that responded included Tarawa, dock landing ship Anchorage (LSD-36), amphibious transport dock Duluth (LPD-6), guided missile destroyer Donald Cook (DDG-75), guided missile frigate Hawes (FFG-53), and fleet tug Catawba (T-ATF-168), along with British frigates Cumberland (F-85) and Marlborough (F-233). The Navy subsequently enhanced global force protection training during crucial transits, and over 85 sailors on board Abraham Lincoln qualified to fire M60 and Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns to defend against assaults by low-slow flying aircraft and small boats.
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen visited Abraham Lincoln on 16 November 2000. “I’m here because I want to meet you and thank you for the service that you provide to our country…I know that I’m sending you out to a dangerous area,” he addressed crewmembers. “I speak of danger because [the attack on] the [USS] Cole is most recent on my mind, and probably most recent in yours.”
The ship launched her last Southern Watch flights and came about for Australian waters on 29 December. The carrier visited Perth, Australia, from 11 to 16 January 2001, followed over 20 to 25 January by a further visit to Hobart, Tasmania. While at Hobart, the ship hosted a reception for 400 guests and dignitaries in Hangar Bay 2. Crewmembers repeatedly spoke about the wonderful reception by the Australians in both ports. Abraham Lincoln returned from her deployment to NS Everett on 9 February 2001.
The ship visited Esquimalt from 23 to 27 March 2001. As she came about for home, Abraham Lincoln embarked passengers for a family cruise. Abraham Lincoln completed PIA 2001 (a planned incremental availability) at Bremerton, Wash., from 11 April to 15 October 2001. Barracks craft APL-62 spent much of the availability berthed nearby, providing sailors accommodations during the work. Crewmembers despairingly referred to the arrangement as living on “the barge.” The Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department established a support equipment rework detachment ashore at Everett that overhauled gear.
Al-Qāidah terrorists hijacked four airliners, crashing two of the jets into the twin World Trade Center towers in New York City, and one about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pa., on 11 September 2001. The terrorists also flew a Boeing B-757 designated American Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The impact of the aircraft thrust it into the reinforced building and severely damaged the newly opened Navy Command Center. The attack at the Pentagon killed 189 people including all 64 on board American 77, among them, Naval Reservist and pilot Capt. Charles F. Burlingame, III; and wounded 125 in the building, including 33 sailors and nine Navy civilians. The terrorists murdered an estimated 2,977 people on 9/11.
The Department of Defense declared Force Protection Condition Delta—the highest alert. George Washington sailed from NS Norfolk to protect New York City. The carrier responded to tasking from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and supported hospital ship Comfort (AH-20) during the relief efforts. Aircraft carriers John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and John C. Stennis (CVN-74) positioned themselves to defend the East and West Coasts, respectively, while across the globe many aircraft ashore sortied. Coast Guardsmen began to escort Navy ships during their departures or arrivals at ports. Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore, Jr., Commander Fifth Fleet, oversaw an emergency meeting at NSA Bahrain, and directed some of the nearby aircraft and vessels toward the North Arabian Sea. Aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-65) sailed en route to South African waters, and came about and raced northward. Aircraft carrier Carl Vinson (CVN-70) rounded India to relieve Enterprise, but made speed to rendezvous with her, becoming the first carrier on station in international waters off Pakistan prepared to bring retribution to the perpetrators of 9/11.
Chief Electronics Technician Mark Lind on board Abraham Lincoln neared the end of his enlistment when the terrorists struck. “When I returned home on 9/11,” Lind recalled, “I spoke to my wife and children. Everyone was upset—the kids were crying. My son, Daniel, 13, looked at me and said. ‘Dad, I guess you’re not retiring. I said, ‘I think you’re right son.” The next day the chief called the Navy Personnel Command and asked that they rescind his retirement papers. “When I looked at all the young people I was recruiting to serve their country, I realized that it would take them 20 years to learn what I know.” Lind deployed with Abraham Lincoln in 2002.
Abraham Lincoln accomplished sea trials over 15 to 18 October 2001. During 2001, the ship’s Medical Department treated two sailors for falling overboard, and evacuated 16 others for further treatment. The carrier’s Walking Blood Bank also recorded their highest numbers of volunteers to date, in large measure prompted by the tragedy of 9/11—a total of 386 donors.
The ship participated in CompTuEx in Californian waters from 14 January to 7 February 2002. One of the key elements of CompTuEx directed the ship’s carrier intelligence center to operate with men of Alpha Platoon from Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) Team 1. The SEALs conducted a special reconnaissance mission to San Clemente Island about 75 miles northwest of San Diego. The SEALs dug-in and gathered intelligence, transmitting imagery and data to the carrier for three days.
The final phase of the exercise shifted from intelligence gathering missions to a scenario to rescue two downed airmen. The SEALs located the men, and a pair of Seahawks of HS-4 swept in and extracted the SEALs and their rescued victims. Intelligence Specialist 2d Class James Hartje detached from the ship to work with Naval Special Warfare Command, familiarizing himself with their communications and operational procedures, during a month ashore. A helicopter flew some of the sailors from the Distribution Work Center to Shiloh, where they aided in troubleshooting and repairing an SH-60B AESS station. About 400 sailors presented to Sick Bay with viral gastroenteritis at times during the exercise.
Abraham Lincoln replaced the AN/SPS-64 surface search radar on board with the AN/SPS-73 and Furono repeater system from February to July 2002. Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England visited the ship and spoke to crewmembers in an “All Hands” muster during the forenoon watch on 5 April. The ship then sailed from NS Everett for multi-threat scenario Northern Edge 2002 in Alaskan waters from 14 April to 22 May. Abraham Lincoln accomplished carrier qualifications while en route to the Northern Pacific from 14 to 17 April, and then took part in JTFEx over 4 to 14 May. The ship moored briefly at NAS North Island on 14 and 15 May, before coming about for Everett.
In the interim, the Navy announced that the service would equip several thousand sailors of the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Carrier Battle Groups with the Man Overboard Indicator (MOBI) system, a salt-water activated device to track people who fell overboard. Rescuers normally scanned the water visually for flashing strobe lights, survival-pack dye, or reflective tape to spot people who fell overboard. The designers of MOBI intended the system to improve the speed and accuracy of rescuing people in the water. Within seconds of impacting the sea, the pager-sized beacon was designed to transmit data to a receiver on the ship’s bridge, which then emitted an alarm to alert watchstanders of a man overboard. The designers utilized feedback from sailors to modify the system, including reducing the size and improving the water-tight capabilities to increase its robustness. The success of the experiments led to the Navy’s subsequent decision to introduce MOBI to float coats on board more than 225 ships.
Abraham Lincoln, with CVW-14 embarked, deployed from NS Everett to the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf on 24 July 2002. The F-14D Tomcats of VF-31, F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-25 and VFA-113, F/A-18E Super Hornets of VFA-115, E-2C Hawkeyes of VAW-113, EA-6B Prowlers of VAQ-139, C-2A Greyhounds of VRC-30 Detachment 1, S-3B Vikings of VS-35, and SH-60F and HH-60H Seahawks of HS-4 embarked with the ship. In addition, two MH-60S Seahawks of HC-5 embarked at one point, and in combination with the 12 Super Hornets of VFA-115, marked the first deployment of these types of aircraft on board. The carrier also put to sea with her first F414-GE-400 Super Hornet Jet Engine Test Instrumentation Cell, and 1,000 pound JDAMs for use with F/A-18Es. A number of vessels joined Abraham Lincoln as she sailed westward, at times including guided missile cruisers Mobile Bay (CG-53) and Shiloh, guided missile destroyer Paul Hamilton (DDG-60), Fletcher, and Camden.
Lt. Corey L. Pritchard of VFA-115 accomplished the initial deployed F/A-18E Super Hornet trap on board the ship during a series of carrier qualifications over the first few days. The squadron dedicated their deployment to the memory of the firefighters of Ladder Company 4 of Midtown Manhattan, which lost 15 men to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Sailors painted the names of 12 of these heroes onto each of the Super Hornets of the squadron to honor the firemen at one point during the cruise. In addition, some of the crewmembers adopted one of the firehouse’s slogans for their cruise patches: “Pride of Midtown. Never Missed a Performance.”
Abraham Lincoln deployed with the Naval Fires Network, a network-centric warfare system designed to provide real time intelligence correlation, sensor control, target generation, mission planning, and battle damage assessment capabilities. The system allowed ships in the battle group to hit ‘time critical targets’ (for example, terrorists attempting to escape), and to share real time targeting and intelligence data. Previous battles against the Iraqis and Serbs had underscored the need to hit what analysts referred to as ‘rapidly relocatable targets.’ The carrier and Mobile Bay deployed with the MOBI system, and during the cruise Shiloh used the Area Air Defense Control system.
The ship visited Sasebo, Japan, over 16 to 19 August 2002. Three F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-25 flew ashore to Kadena AB Okinawa for an air-to-air training detachment. The carrier put in to Hong Kong from 23 to 27 August, followed over 31 August to 5 September by a visit to Singapore while en route to the Indian Ocean.
Abraham Lincoln entered the Fifth Fleet and relieved George Washington on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 on 11 September. Two days later, Capt. Kevin C. Albright, Commander CVW-14, and Comdr. Jeffrey R. Penfield, the Commanding Officer of VFA-115, flew the first Super Hornet combat sorties from the ship as she sailed in the Northern Arabian Sea. The Super Hornets flew against militants in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom—operations against al-Qāidah terrorists and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Penfield later received the Bronze Star for his actions during this deployment.
A Prowler of VAQ-139 accomplished the squadron’s first field landing with night vision goggles at one point during these missions at Bagram AB Afghanistan. Catapult Nos 2 and 3 developed leaks resulting from service wear and corrosion of a two inch trough heating drain, which the crew repaired while underway. In addition, Jet Blast Deflector No. 1 failed due to improper manufacture of an actuator base that opened and closed the deflector. The problem destroyed substantial cooling piping and brass fittings, but sailors restored the vital system within 12 hours.
An aircraft flare dispenser ignited near the bomb farm on the flight deck at 1330 on 18 October 2002. Senior Chief Aviation Warfare Systems Operator Randy Horner, the Ordnance Division’s leading chief petty officer, reacted quickly and grabbed the burning cylinder, ran 20 yards to the edge of the flight deck and tossed the device overboard. Normally used with F-14 Tomcats as decoys for heat-seeking missiles, the flares contained 80 internal units that blazed at high temperatures. “By the time I reached it, about 20 or 30 of [the internal units] were burning,” Horner recalled. “When I grabbed the handle [of the dispenser], it burned my hands a little, like grabbing a hot pan with the water boiling over.” Shipmates helped the sailor control the potential conflagration. Horner’s rapid reactions averted what could have escalated into a fire, and he received the Navy Achievement Medal for his actions, his sixth such award during 25 years of service. Abraham Lincoln launched her final combat mission over Afghanistan the following day, and then came about for the Arabian Gulf.
The ship visited Bahrain from 25 to 28 October 2002, and then fought in Southern Watch from 29 October to 4 December. Capt. Kendall L. Card relieved Capt. Dupouy as the ship’s Commanding Officer on 5 November. The following day, Aircraft No. 202 and Aircraft No. 206, F/A-18Es manned by 34-year-old pilot Lt. John Turner and pilot Lt. Eric Doyle of VFA-115, respectively, flew the first Super Hornet combat live-fire actions from the ship. The two jets dropped four Mk 84 (GBU-31 [guided bomb unit] (V) 4, J109 target penetrator) 2,000 pound JDAMs against an Iraqi command and control facility near Tallil, and two surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems near Al Kut. Both of these sites lay situated to the southeast of Baghdad. The Super Hornets bombed the sites in response to Iraqi provocations against coalition aircraft.
Gen. Tommy R. Franks, USA, Commander CentCom, led a troupe of United Services Organization (USO) entertainers on board that included singers Wayne Newton and Neal McCoy, comedian Paul Rodriquez, and two Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, to share the Thanksgiving holidays with the crew on 26 November. Paul Hamilton sailed alongside the carrier, enabling her crewmembers to enjoy some of the entertainment. Aircraft flew their last Southern Watch mission of the cruise, and the ship then came about for the Arabian Sea.
A small Class “A” fire broke out in the Socket Pouring Room at one point in December 2002. The fire damaged overhead lighting fixtures and burned cableway for No. 4 ACE control, indication and stanchions, though sailors controlled the blaze without casualties.
Ongoing international negotiations with Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath party appointees concerning their abuses of human rights and weapons of mass destruction program (which many analysts perceived as a substantive menace) deteriorated. Rumors circulated across the media that the Navy would extend the ship’s deployment. Sailors struggled with homesickness during the holidays but anticipated longer separations. “Just focus on the day,” Capt. Kendall L. Card, the ship’s skipper, counseled his crew. “Keep your head on the swivel.” Tensions among crewmembers mounted and the captain added “Get over it,” in order to emphasize their commitment to the war. Sailors joked about the phrase, and some wore t-shirts sporting the skippers’ expression. The ship visited Perth from 22 to 28 December 2002.
The Navy announced the extension of Abraham Lincoln’s deployment on 1 January 2003. The strike group commander passed the word over the 1MC during the evening of New Year’s Day, a blow to crewmembers who looked forward to reunions with loved ones at home. Officials publicly revealed the operational requirement of at least two carrier battle groups and two amphibious ready groups to deploy to the Arabian Gulf with only 96 hour’s notice—a clear indication of the failure of negotiations with the Iraqis.
The ship conducted an extended visit to Fremantle over 6 to 20 January 2003. Some Super Hornets of VFA-115 flew to the Royal Australian Air Force station at Pearce to train with their Australian counterparts from 14 to 19 January. In the interim, crewmembers laboriously replaced non-skid on the flight deck. The Boat and Airplane Crane rotational cable-connecting pin broke (at a connection point inside the cableway sheath), but technicians worked on the crane and repaired it on all but one of the days of the stay in port. The Navy also flew in a depot repair team from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard that helped crewmembers rebuild and replace the components of No. 4 Maine Engine Attached Lube Oil Pump.
The ship participated in Southern Watch from 1 February to 18 March 2003. Abraham Lincoln sailed initially with Constellation, and then Kitty Hawk later rendezvoused with them. The three carriers maneuvered within the constricted waters of the Arabian Gulf, providing challenging navigational dilemmas to their sailors. Acting Secretary of the Navy Hansford T. Johnson visited the ship on 20 February, followed the next day by Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition John Young.
Sailors alternated struggling with stressful situations and with boredom during their weary hours at sea. Eighteen-year-old Seaman Tamekia Dixon of Columbia, S.C., described her long watches while she manned an M60: “I’m just trying to keep my eye out for stuff – helicopters, planes and boats. Lately, we’ve been seeing a lot of jellyfish.” Sailors described their repetitive routines as Groundhog Day, after the Bill Murray film where TV weather forecaster Phil Connors experiences the same day. Crewmembers comprised a variety of experience and one sailor, Seaman Apprentice Curtis Blunck, had only reported on board mere days before the war began. Rumors of the approaching fighting circulated among the crew, and the skipper thus authorized what he termed “down time” on 11 March. Cool rain fell lightly as fighter pilots watched a marathon of the television situation comedy Seinfeld and played backgammon, while other sailors drove golf balls off the flight deck, tossed a football, or wrote e-mails to their loved ones.
The coalition meanwhile prepared to launch the initial strikes of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Iraqis failed to comply with UN resolutions, which had led the U.S. Congress in October 2002, to authorize President George W. Bush to use the military to enforce Iraqi compliance with these decisions. Saddam Hussein continued to disregard warnings to eliminate his offensive weapons, and the President therefore issued an ultimatum demanding that Hussein and his sons leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so precipitated Iraqi Freedom two days later. The British supported the Americans with Operation Telic.
Operations rose in scale and frequency during the days leading up to Iraqi Freedom. Allied aircraft struck nearly 400 Iraqi military targets from June 2002 to 19 March 2003. As the war began, Iraqi aerial opposition proved minimal at 325 combat aircraft, but the enemy deployed numerous SAMs and over 6,000 mobile and fixed anti-aircraft guns. During the first 19 days of March, the pace of these preliminary operations thus increased and aircraft flew 4,000 strike and support sorties against Iraqi radar, antiaircraft guns, and fiber-optic links to suppress enemy air defenses in preparation for the invasion. Abraham Lincoln assisted Reuben James (FFG-57) to repair and align the guided missile frigate’s AN-SPS-49 air search radar, reestablishing full air defense support for the group. Sailors from Abraham Lincoln, Constellation, and Kitty Hawk also helped each other with repair and administrative tasks.
CNO Adm. Vernon E. Clark sent the sailors and marines about to thrust into Iraq a personal message on 18 March 2003: “The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat. But we will do everything to defeat it. Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety.” Adm. Clark further observed that these operations were only possible because of the “energy, expertise and dedication [of the sailors and marines]. You are proving everyday the unique and lasting value of decisive, sovereign, lethal forces projecting offensive and defensive power from the vast maneuver area that is the sea.” The admiral noted that seven of the Navy’s 12 aircraft carriers in commission, nine of the 12 amphibious assault ships, and hundreds of aircraft had deployed for the confrontation, numbering more than 200 allied ships and submarines from five carrier strike groups, three amphibious ready groups, and two amphibious task forces. In addition, over 130 sealift ships sailed to support the armada.
During 2003, Clark directed the replacement of the terms carrier battle group and amphibious ready group, respectively, with carrier strike group and expeditionary strike group, to reflect the enhanced striking power of more widely distributed forces designed to be more responsive.
“On my orders,” President Bush explained from the Oval Office, “coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war.” The President addressed a personal appeal to the men and women of the armed forces as they set out upon the conflict: “The peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed. The enemies you confront will soon know your skill and bravery. The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military.”
Two USAF Lockheed F-117A Night Hawks and other coalition aircraft, together with guided missile cruisers Bunker Hill (CG-52) and Cowpens, Donald Cook and Milius, and attack submarines Cheyenne (SSN-773) and Montpelier (SSN-765) sailing in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, attacked the Dora Farms complex near Baghdad just before dawn on 20 March 2003. The CIA had uncovered intelligence that indicated an apparent meeting of Hussein and his senior Iraqi leadership. The Pentagon publicly announced the raid as a “decapitation strategy” aimed at killing key Iraqi leaders, thereby shortening the war and saving lives. These ships and submarines fired 24 TLAMs, with Cowpens alone launching a salvo of 11 missiles, but the dictator survived. Following the raid, an additional 537 strike sorties and 34 TLAM launches shaped the battlespace.
The coalition initiated strategic air operations during A-Day, beginning at about 2100 on 21 March 2003. Journalists seized upon the phrase “shock and awe” to describe the devastating firepower that the allies unleashed. Aircraft flew more than 1,700 sorties—832 strike—on A-Day, and aircraft, ships, and submarines let loose a staggering barrage of 381 TLAMs and 124 AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missiles against Iraqi command and control, communications, computers, and intelligence, airfields, and air defense facilities.
Task Force 50, comprising Abraham Lincoln, Constellation, and Kitty Hawk, steamed in the Arabian Gulf, while aircraft carriers Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and Theodore Roosevelt operated in the Mediterranean. Guided missile destroyer John S. McCain (DDG-56), and attack submarines Columbia and Providence (SSN-719) and British Splendid (S-106) and Turbulent (S-87), fired about 50 TLAMs against targets specifically located in and around Baghdad. Allied strike planners deconflicted the routes of aircraft and TLAMs to avoid fratricide (hitting friendly forces) as the missiles arced over the horizon toward the Iraqis. Aircrew nicknamed the crowded air corridors that crossed the country as “driveways.” The Iraqi aircraft avoided opposing their allied counterparts in the air, but the enemy fired hundreds of SAMs and countless anti-aircraft rounds. Planners divided the Iraqi air defense zones into Missile Engagement Zones (MEZs), and pilots nicknamed the heavily defended area around the capital as the “Baghdad Super MEZ.” The EA-6B Prowlers flying from the carriers suppressed these enemy air defenses through the use of electronic warfare and HARMs.
The fighting led to inevitable confusion, and at one point Prowler pilot Lt. Comdr. Ken O’Donnell recalled that 13 or 14 aircraft stacked up as they awaited their turn at an aerial refueling tanker. “Everyone was getting low [on fuel],” O’Donnell explained, “It was getting kind of tense up there.” Lt. Shannon Callahan, an Electronic Countermeasures Officer with VAQ-139 operating from Abraham Lincoln, described the suppression of enemy air defenses missions: “That was a big task, to protect the strikers when they went into Baghdad, because it was so heavily protected. To send a strike into Baghdad was a very dangerous thing, and that’s why you had to have a Prowler there.”
Coalition aircraft attained air superiority by bombing enemy airfields but also struck a variety of other targets including: targets in and around Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, and Tikrit; an air defense center equipped with mobile early-warning radar in western Iraq; an air traffic control center in al-Basrah, an important port and crossroads of commerce in the south of the country; communications sites near Ash Shuaybah, Mudaysis, and Ruwayshid; SAMs near al-Basrah; and long-range artillery near Az Zubayr and on the al-Fāw Peninsula (also known as al-Fāo). Air power ripped the Iraqi defenses apart, often driving the enemy troops from their positions into the open and enabling the advancing coalition troops to overwhelm the fugitives.
In between the strikes an eerie stillness descended upon Baghdad, broken by the roar of frequent explosions or the wail of air-raid sirens as allied bombs and missiles pounded targets. People largely deserted the capital’s streets, with the exception of isolated knots of soldiers and Republican Guardsmen who manned security checkpoints or huddled together to wait out the carnage. Fires raged out of control and lit the sky.
Aircraft No. 202, a Super Hornet flown by Lt. Comdr. David Little of VFA-115, in concert with a second F/A-18E flown by Lt. Robert Kihm of that squadron, accomplished the first Super Hornet quantity four drop of GBU-31 (V) 2, J84 JDAMs during a mission. The squadron’s Super Hornets repeatedly launched carrying the destructive firepower of up to four 2,000 pound JDAMs each. Newly installed radar warning receivers, together with extra chaff and flares, towed missile decoys, radar jammers, and additional fuel, enhanced the flexibility, reach, and effectiveness of these Super Hornets.
A pair of F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-113 flying from Abraham Lincoln knocked-out Iraqi SAMs at Al-Taqquedam airfield in the heart of the Baghdad Super MEZ by firing a salvo of HARMs at 2135 on 21 March 2003. Their attack enabled other strike aircraft to bomb their targets.
Alert ordnance sailors on board Abraham Lincoln discovered that the stresses of dropping 2,000-pound JDAMs broke the linkages of seven BRU-32 bomb racks. The sailors quickly launched an investigation and notified other Navy commands, which minimized the impact of the problem on other aircraft carriers. Abraham Lincoln provided communication support to the British Royal Navy, which required sailors to interface with the British “Brent” telephone system to launch coordinated TLAM attacks.
A P-3C Orion of VP-46, SH-60F and HH-60H Seahawks of HS-2, and SH-60Bs of HSLs 47 and 48 supported special operations forces that secured the Rumaylah Oil Fields before their Iraqi garrisons set the platforms afire. The enemy set other Gas Oil Separation Plants ablaze and the smoke hindered low-flying aircraft. The Iraqis also retaliated for the invasion by firing a tactical ballistic missile into Kuwait. Army PAC-3 Phased Array Tracking Intercept of Target (Patriot) missiles shot down the intruding weapon at about 0100, in what a CentCom spokesperson described to journalists as two “bright orange flashes.”
The men and women of the allied forces also contended with a shamal—a strong sandstorm that swept across portions of southern Iraq. In some instances wind and sand reduced visibility to mere yards, grounded aircraft, and choked people caught in its path. People struggled to breathe in the oppressing tempest. The shamal eventually dissipated during the succeeding days, but the clearing skies then presented additional problems to aircraft, because the moon and starlight presented them as better targets to the optical guidance of the Iraqi air defenses.
Aircraft flying from Abraham Lincoln encountered heavy Iraqi antiaircraft fire during a strike on 21 March 2003. “It looked like a string of 50 firecrackers that all went off at the same time,” 29-year-old Super Hornet pilot Lt. Eric Doyle from Houston, Texas, explained. “Like mini-space shuttles going up. And the plumes – the plumes of flame trailing them!”
Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, USA, Vice Director for Operations on the Joint Staff, revealed publicly that allied forces had launched the largest use of precision guided munitions deployed to date. Air Force Boeing B-52H Stratofortresses had dropped about 100 AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missiles, and USAF aircraft including Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirits, Nighthawks, McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles and F-15E Strike Eagles, and Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons flew approximately 2,000 missions, about half of them strike tasks that hit nearly 1,500 ‘aimpoints’ (individual targets could comprise multiple aimpoints) during the first 24 hours of the war. Allied strike aircraft that participated in these raids included British Tornado GR4s, Sepecat GR3 Jaguars, and Harrier GR7s.
Thirty U.S. and British ships and submarines fired nearly 400 TLAMs against Iraqi military targets on this date: guided missile cruisers Bunker Hill, Cowpens, Mobile Bay, San Jacinto (CG-56), and Shiloh; guided missile destroyers Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), Donald Cook, Higgins (DDG 76), John S. McCain, Milius, O’Kane (DDG-77), Oscar Austin (DDG-79), Paul Hamilton, and Porter (DDG-78), destroyers Briscoe, Deyo (DD-989), and Fletcher, and attack submarines Augusta (SSN-710), Cheyenne, Columbia, Key West (SSN-722), Louisville (SSN-724), Montpelier, Newport News (SSN-750), Pittsburgh (SSN-720), Providence, San Juan (SSN-751), and Toledo (SSN-769), together with British boats Splendid and Turbulent.
Despite intense fire from numerous Iraqi antiaircraft guns and SAMs, VFA-113 led a strike that used JDAMs to destroy the Ba’ath Party headquarters on 22 March 2003. The strike package comprised 12 critical targets in four different cities.
General Franks outlined allied military objectives for Iraqi Freedom during a press briefing at CentCom at Doha, Qatar. The general noted that the fighting would be “unlike any other in history, a campaign characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility, by the employment of precise munitions on a scale never before seen, and by the application of overwhelming force.” He further elaborated upon the coalition’s principal objectives:
“First, end the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Second, to identify, isolate and eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Third, to search for, to capture and to drive out terrorists from that country.
Fourth, to collect such intelligence as we can related to terrorist networks.
Fifth, to collect such intelligence as we can related to the global network of illicit weapons of mass destruction.
Sixth, to end sanctions and to immediately deliver humanitarian support to the displaced and to many needy Iraqi citizens.
Seventh, to secure Iraq’s oil fields and resources, which belong to the Iraqi people.
And last, to help the Iraqi people create conditions for a transition to a representative government.”
An enormous low-pressure cyclonic storm front roared across Egypt and Saudi Arabia and struck the southern half of the region with a fierce turab (similar to a shamal, though originating from the south rather then from the north) from 23 to 27 March 2003. The turab blew fine dust and sand at high winds into everything in its path. At one point, a polar-orbiting satellite captured an image of the turab covering almost the entire southern half of Iraq and most of Kuwait. Thick dust covered people and equipment with an ochre haze and permeated into exposed skin and gear, which caused numerous maintenance problems, and at times, visibility dropped to 0/0.
During the afternoon watch on 26 March 2003, the turab twirled and spun from sea level up to 8,000 feet, and completely blanketed Abraham Lincoln as aircraft recovered on board with mere seconds to spare. Capt. Card shifted the ship almost 30 miles in a vain attempt to outrun the storm, but the turab overtook the ship. The skipper grimly resolved to continue flight operations in spite of the appalling conditions. The storm affected 12 aircraft returning to the carrier and 11 more launching during these critical hours. The captain manned the bridge and closely eyed the cauldron, shifting his gaze between the windows and a closed-circuit television monitor that recorded the tense scenes on the flight deck. Lookouts could barely see beyond the ship as the fighting ashore continued unabated.
“This is a commanding officer and pilot’s nightmare,” Lt. Comdr. Mark Eckardt, Abraham Lincoln’s senior meteorologist, reflected, as he stood next to the skipper to appraise him on the turbulent weather. “These will be the hardest flights of your life,” Capt. Albright told the sailors of his wing, CVW-14, “But the guys on the ground are getting killed and they need us.” Flight controllers reluctantly directed aircraft to orbit on more than one occasion, awaiting momentary breaks in the weather. “That was the most disconcerting thing,” 39-year-old Super Hornet pilot Comdr. Dale E. Horan of VFA-115 recalled, “You’re doing a lot of math at that point in the sky [to determine remaining fuel status].”
Aircraft No. 202, a Super Hornet piloted by Lt. John Turner circled over his target, accompanied by a Super Hornet flown by 29-year-old Lt. Steven Dean. They received strike orders and dropped a pair of GBU-31 (V) 2, J84 JDAMs on Iraqi troops south of Karbala, 60 miles south of Baghdad. While the two jets returned to Abraham Lincoln, they flew into the maelstrom surrounding the carrier. Turner landed, climbed from his aircraft, and noted that his knees shook from the stress. “These are the most adverse conditions I’ve ever faced,” he candidly admitted. The tempest wreaked havoc with operations and curtailed air missions.
Further to the north the weather also deteriorated. “So here are the tankers up at 40,000 feet with these baskets flailing about out there on the wingtips in bad weather,” Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, Commander, Carrier Group 2 and Task Force 60—who broke his flag in Harry S. Truman—described the rigors of the strike jets attempting to rendezvous with tankers while flying through thunderstorms and swirling dust. “And the guys having a long run to get there and then trying to safely get tanked and then into the fight and then back to tanking. That was a huge challenge for them...”
The turab also impeded the enemy and Gen. Franks learned that the storm immobilized multiple Iraqi formations, including the Medina Republican Guard Tank Division, preparing to counterattack soldiers of the Army’s V Corps when wind from the south blew dust into their faces. “That night [25 March] B-52s, B-1s and a whole range of fighter-bombers flew above the dense ochre dome of the sandstorm,” the general later recalled, “delivering precision-guided bombs through the zero-visibility, zero-ceiling weather. … The bombardment, which lasted from the night of March 25 to the morning of March 27, was one of the fiercest and most effective in the history of warfare.” Strikes broke-up the Iraqi troop concentrations and prevented the enemy from mounting a coordinated counterattack. The Hornets of VFA-113 flew from Abraham Lincoln and took part in the battle, persevering through the heavy overcast to bomb the Iraqis.
Rear Adm. John M. Kelly, Commander Task Force 50, announced that aircraft had flown about 550 sorties from the decks of Abraham Lincoln, Constellation, and Kitty Hawk by 24 March 2003. These aircraft consumed fuel at such rates while flying long range strikes that planners discovered the requirement for additional aerial tankers. Sailors thus temporarily configured four Super Hornets as tankers. During typical aerial refueling missions, these Super Hornets bypassed the necessity to delay in tanker tracks to transfer up to 12,000 pounds of fuel to strike aircraft. These actions allowed the bombers to hit targets and receive what VFA-115 referred to as “back side fuel” from supporting Vikings on their return flights.
Meanwhile, a USAF MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) destroyed an Iraqi radar-guided ZSU-23-4 antiaircraft artillery piece outside Al Amarah in southern Iraq by firing an AGM-114K Hellfire II air-to-surface missile. The event marked the first UAV strike of Iraqi Freedom. The lack of Iraqi opposition in the air facilitated concentration by aircraft on flying close air support missions for soldiers and marines on the ground locked in grueling battles with Iraqi troops, jihādis (foreign Muslim volunteers), and Fedayeen Saddam (Iraqis headed by Hussein’s eldest son Uday).
Coalition aircraft struck nine Iraqi surface-to-surface missiles and launchers in Baghdad with precision guided munitions on 26 March. The Iraqis attempted to hide the weapons within a residential area, callously positioning them barely 300 feet from homes in the hope that the allies would not target the missiles in an attempt to protect civilians from collateral damage. Allied aircraft blasted nine meeting places that intelligence analysts had identified Ba’ath party officials and paramilitary chiefs favoring, killing an estimated 200 Iraqi leaders and bodyguards, on 28 March. Special operations troops on the ground provided coordinates to the targets, all of which were located to the northeast of al-Basrah.
Naval aircraft helped marines defeat a ferocious attack by Iraqi irregulars supported by armored personnel carriers, rockets, and antiaircraft artillery at An Nasiriyah on 28 March. A pair of Hornets knocked out three Iraqi Al Samoud surface-to-surface missile launchers, approximately 25 miles northwest of Al Basrah, at 1500 that day. Additional strikes supported allied troops locked in firefights with Iraqi troops and Fedayeen Saddam in the Rutbah and Samawah areas, and air assaults dropped 1,000-pound bombs on Republican Guardsmen deployed around Baghdad, destroying missile sites and fuel depots.
President Bush signed an amendment to Executive Order 10448 of 22 April 1953, which authorized eligibility for the National Defense Service Medal to members in good standing in the Selected Reserve. The beginning date for eligibility was 11 September 2001, through a termination date to be determined.
Tomahawk missiles struck the Iraqi Ministry of Information in Baghdad, which the Iraqi regime utilized for command and control, on 29 March 2003. The following day, two F/A-18E Super Hornets, manned by Lieutenant Commanders Hal Schmitt and Jason Norris of VFA-14, and a pair of F/A-18Fs, flown by Lieutenant Commanders Brian Garrison and Mark Weisgerber, and Lieutenants Tom Poulter and Tom Brodine of VFA-41, temporarily shifted from Nimitz, en route to the war, to Abraham Lincoln. The four jets made the move in order to provide Abraham Lincoln with an improved mix of fighter-tanker capabilities, but the transfer involved an exhausting 1,700 mile flight. This move brought the total number of Super Hornets embarked on board the ship up to 16 aircraft. The detachment returned to Nimitz following her arrival in the Arabian Gulf on 6 April 2003.
Multiple USAF B-52Hs, Rockwell (Boeing) B-1B Lancers, and B-2As bombed the same area at the same time as part of a single strike package, the first such raid ever accomplished. The bombers plastered Iraqi leadership and command and control targets in Baghdad using precision guided munitions. Many of Saddam Hussein’s followers attempted to regain control of their collapsing order by lashing out at innocent people caught in the crossfire. One such paramilitary band gathered in an unused prison at Ar Rutbah in western Iraq, preparing to strike at civilians nearby on 31 March. Allied intelligence identified the assembly, and a raid by aircraft broke up the meeting.
Allied aircraft macerated a heavily secured Iraqi storage facility in the Al Karkh district of Baghdad with 40 JDAMs on 2 April 2003. The regime’s Special Security Organization, one of several internal security operations responsible for the imprisonment and torture of victims, utilized the building for their crimes. The following day, F/A-18Fs flying from Abraham Lincoln made the first operational flight of the Super Hornet Fast Tactical Imagery reconnaissance module, during a strike over Iraq. The coalition declared air superiority over all of Iraq on 6 April. By that point in the war, the aircraft of CVW-14 had dropped more than 1.3 million pounds of ordnance on enemy troops.
Nimitz relieved Abraham Lincoln on 8 and 9 April. Abraham Lincoln came about and passed through the Strait of Hormuz outbound, on the same day that coalition forces declared the liberation of most of Baghdad on 12 April. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the allies recorded the largest use of precision guided munitions to date, and the first drop of a JDAM by an F-14D Tomcat. In addition, the marines operated RQ-2A/B Pioneer and RQ-14A Dragon Eye UAVs.
Abraham Lincoln performed an underway replenishment with Paul Hamilton on 19 April. The carrier’s Re-Fueling Station No. 21 experienced a casualty on the high-tensioning winch, preventing the ships from completing their refueling. Sailors accomplished what the Deck Department described as “a rigorous overhaul” of the equipment, and the ship completed refueling Paul Hamilton on 22 April. Abraham Lincoln visited NS Pearl Harbor en route to Californian waters on 26 and 27 April.
President George W. Bush arrived on board Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003. Preparing for the President’s visit required technical adjustments that included the installation of more than 5,000 feet of telephone lines to the flight deck, island, and hangar bay of the ship. The work facilitated White House communications for national security considerations, for the Secret Service agents who protected the chief executive, and for the media.
Aircraft No. 700, an S-3B Viking (BuNo 159387) manned by pilot Comdr. John P. Lussier, the squadron Executive Officer, and Tactical Coordinator Lt. Ryan Phillips, both men from VS-35, transported the chief executive on board the carrier. A Secret Service agent accompanied the President. At one point during the approximately 30 mile flight from NAS North Island, Lussier turned control of the Viking over to the President, who sat in the copilot’s seat wearing a flight suit equipped with a parachute and water survival kit.
Just prior to the flight, journalists asked Lawrence A. Fleischer, the White House Press Secretary, who would fly the jet. “I think the best clue, you know,” Fleischer replied humorously, “if the President is actually flying the plane will be to see if the plane is flying on a straight line, you’ll know that the Navy pilot is in charge. If it does anything else, it’s an open question.” Lussier afterward referred to the chief executive’s flying skills: “He did fly in a straight line, and he flew at a level one, too,” adding that President Bush and the agent did not become ill during the flight.
Enthusiastic sailors swarmed the President as he climbed from the Viking, shaking hands with the chief executive, patting him on the back, and offering ‘high fives.’ Officials designated the aircraft, which maintainers had painted with the words “George W. Bush, Commander in Chief,” just below the flight canopy, as ‘Navy 1’ in honor of the President. The Viking subsequently arrived for historical preservation at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, NAS Pensacola, Fla. Additional selected members of the cabinet who arrived on board (separately) for the occasion included Dr. Condoleezza Rice, President for National Security Affairs (commonly known as the National Security Advisor), and Andrew H. Card, Jr., White House Chief of Staff.
A huge banner strung across the bridge of Abraham Lincoln read: “Mission Accomplished.” Ten Super Hornets of VFA-115 and two from VFA-122 performed a fly by for the President and to signify their triumph during the war. The President ate a steak-and-lobster dinner with sailors, and that evening addressed the American people from the flight deck of the ship. The President stood before the two remaining Super Hornets of VFA-115 still on board that had flown against the enemy, and declared an end to major combat operations.
“…In this battle,” President Bush explained proudly, “we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment – yet, it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other, made this day possible. Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant is fallen, and Iraq is free. Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision, speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before. From distant bases or ships a sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division or strike a single building or bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground in one of the swiftest mass advances of heavy arms in history. The world has seen the might of the American armed forces…”
Critics later derided the President’s declaration of the end of [major] battles as premature in light of the subsequent Iraqi insurrection. During each of the following years marking the anniversary of the event, detractors attacked the President’s choice of words. On the eve of the fifth anniversary on 30 April 2008, journalists asked Dana M. Perino, Assistant to the President and Press Secretary at the White House, to address the issue. “President Bush is well aware,” Perino replied, “that the banner should have been much more specific and said “mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship [Abraham Lincoln] on their mission.” And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.”
Two fireboats shooting plumes of water faithfully shepherded Abraham Lincoln to Pier 1 at NS Everett on 20 May 2003. The ship returned from war following a deployment that lasted almost nine and a half months—after 290 days—her longest deployment to date. Abraham Lincoln sailed 102,816 nautical miles during the cruise, and recorded 12,700 arrested landings and 16,500 sorties, while aircraft flying from her deck dropped 1.865 million pounds of ordnance during Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Southern Watch. During the initial strikes over Iraq, Super Hornets often dropped up to four 2,000 pound satellite-guided bombs from each aircraft, from above 30,000 feet to reduce the danger from enemy antiaircraft fire and SAMs. Comdr. Penfield of VFA-115 noted that pilots programmed the global positioning system coordinates into the bombs “and let those Volkswagens go.” Super Hornets also demonstrated their versatility by providing more than 3.2 million pounds of fuel to other aircraft during the deployment, including 2.3 million pounds in Iraqi Freedom.
Abraham Lincoln completed a drydock planned incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from 25 June 2003 to 7 May 2004. Some of the Super Hornet pilots of VFA-115 traveled to New York City to visit the men of New York Fire Department Engine 54, Ladder 4, and Battalion 9 from 10 to 14 July. The naval aviators dedicated their missions from the deployment they had just completed to the memory of the firefighters who sacrificed themselves on 9/11. A pair of Super Hornets manned by Lieutenant Commanders David Little and James Haigler performed a fly-by of antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier Intrepid (CVS-11), while surviving firefighters and their families gathered on the flight deck.
Adm. Walter F. Doran, Commander Pacific Fleet, addressed operational issues during a meeting at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce on 13 October. The admiral referred to extended naval deployments by highlighting the recent cruise of Abraham Lincoln as “too long, and they’re going to be very, very hard to sustain. We need to try to get back to six-month-or-less deployments.”
During this period, the Navy announced that “Force Shaping Efforts” resulting from advances in technology influenced the decision to disestablish the Signalman rating (SM)—whose sailors had been responsible for visual communications between ships. The action took effect beginning on 30 September, and extended by increments into the following year. About 10% of the SMs received the option of converting into the Quartermaster (QM) rating, and the remaining sailors rotated into other ratings. The program temporarily burdened the sailors of the Navigation Department on board Abraham Lincoln while they cross-trained SMs and provided in-depth training of QMs in visual communications to assume the responsibilities hitherto performed by the SMs.
Some of the sailors of VFA-115 returned to New York to greet firefighters in December. They presented a model of Aircraft No. 200, a Super Hornet that flew against the Iraqis, complete with the fire department markings that the jet wore during the battles. The firefighters reciprocated by bestowing upon the pilots a U.S. flag that had flown over the World Trade Center site in a ceremony at ‘ground zero.’
The work on Abraham Lincoln extended beyond the initially scheduled deadlines. Vice Adm. Phillip M. Balisle, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, thus announced that a “lack of attention to detail” delayed the return of the ship from drydock, citing “management failure” as the reason, on 4 January 2004. The admiral’s comments offended many of the approximately 30,000 workers at the yard, and he admitted that he addressed the issues in “a direct, blunt manner.” Balisle also noted his pride at the long shifts that the workers completed, but unapologetically explained the timing of returning Abraham Lincoln to sea: “That said, in times of war, intentions and feelings are a meaningless measure. Delivering the product is the only measure that counts.”
The principal causes of the delays included inclement weather, which curtailed painting during rainy days or in periods of high humidity or dew points, and repairs to both rudder posts. Few U.S. facilities possessed the large sized or calibrated equipment to handle the massive rudder posts, and the Navy shipped them across country for workers to machine the vital gear, since the carrier’s propeller shafts already occupied the machines at Bremerton. Inspectors then discovered that they had received defective bearings, thus incurring additional delays.
These problems delayed the ship from refloating from drydock, pushing her scheduled departure from the drydock from 16 January to 13 February 2004. The Navy completed several other key projects in the area, including the conversion of fleet ballistic missile submarine Ohio (SSBN-727) into a guided missile submarine (SSGN-726). The heavy workload imposed additional burdens on workers that delayed an availability on Nimitz and the conversion of fleet ballistic missile submarine Michigan (SSBN-727) into a guided missile submarine (SSGN-727).
Following the completion of the drydock planned incremental availability, Abraham Lincoln trained in southern Californian waters in June 2004. Aircraft from 12 squadrons conducted carrier qualifications on board. At one point, more than 80 people from Columbia Pictures including actors Sam Shepard, Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, and Jamie Foxx filmed scenes from the motion picture Stealth on board. The film (tagline: ‘Fear The Sky’) concerns a fictitious Navy project to invent a fighter jet piloted by an artificial intelligence computer that develops a mind of its own, and the Navy charges aviators to stop the rogue weapon before it can strike mankind.
Many of the guests experienced difficulty adjusting to shipboard life. “I’ve been lost every day,” Biel said with self-deprecating humor. “I still can’t get to my room. I have to ask people all of the time just to help me find the bathroom, but it’s been incredible how helpful everyone has been.” Rob Cohen, the director, also recounted an amusing anecdote. Following a long day of filming, he climbed exhausted into his rack, but awoke disoriented from a sound sleep: “They primed the catapults about two in the morning, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been torpedoed!’ I jumped so high out of my bunk that I hit my head on the shelf.”
During this period, the Navy began to test changes to operational methods with Summer Pulse 04, an exercise designed to investigate the Fleet Response Plan (FRP) of the service’s Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power—a document to integrate the U.S. naval and air forces to advance the prosperity and security of the nation. Under the “six-plus-two” concept of FRP, the Navy was to project power by providing six carrier strike groups in less than 30 days for contingency operations across the globe, with two more such groups to follow within three months to reinforce or rotate with them, or to respond to other crises. Ships were to rotate through 27 to 32 month (average) cycles. Aircraft carriers Enterprise, George Washington, Harry S. Truman, John C. Stennis, John F. Kennedy, Kitty Hawk, and Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) sailed near-simultaneously in five theaters, from June to August. These ships performed scheduled deployments, surge operations, joint and international exercises, other advanced training, and port visits. The Navy therefore ordered Abraham Lincoln to deploy on a non-scheduled cruise to fill the ensuing gaps in forward presence as part of the FRP, scheduled for September 2004.
In the interim, Abraham Lincoln visited Esquimalt from 16 to 18 July. More than 1,700 guests embarked for the return family cruise, enjoying a continental style breakfast and lunch during the eight hours of the transit to NS Everett. Rear Adm. William D. Crowder relieved Rear Adm. Jacob L. Shuford as Commander, Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, during a ceremony on board the ship’s flight deck on 20 July. The Naval War College at Newport, R.I., installed Rear Adm. Shuford as the institution’s 51st president on 12 August.
The ship trained in southern Californian waters from 23 August into September 2004. An F/A-18C Hornet of VFA-151 operating from Abraham Lincoln landed at NAS North Island on 26 August. The jet skidded off the runway, and the pilot ejected into the bay, where San Diego Harbor Police rescued him. The naval aviator recovered in stable condition at Naval Medical Center, San Diego. The Hornet remained partially submerged just beyond the runway until sailors recovered the aircraft.
Abraham Lincoln occupied a position in the Navy’s inter-deployment training cycle that led the service to designate the ship as the “Emergency Surge Asset” for the Seventh Fleet. The ship entered San Diego for a brief respite, but received word of an impending deployment to the Seventh Fleet in mid-October as part of the FRP, on 3 September. The orders impacted the ship earlier than her crew had originally expected, and the sailors accomplished the equivalent of several months of training and maintenance in barely six weeks.
The ship surge deployed as part of the FRP to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean on 16 October 2004. Abraham Lincoln operated specifically within the program to 6 November. Rear Adm. Crowder broke his flag in the carrier, in conjunction with Capt. Craig Geron, Commander, CVW-2, and Capt. Jon W. Kaufman, who led Destroyer Squadron 9. The F/A-18E Super Hornets of VFA-137, F/A-18F Super Hornets of VFA-2, F/A-18C Hornets of VFA-82 and VFA-151, E-2C Hawkeyes of VAW-116, EA-6B Prowlers of VAQ-131, C-2A Greyhounds of VRC-30 Detachment 4, and SH-60F and HH-60H Seahawks of HS-2 embarked on board the carrier. The SH-60B Seahawks of HSL-47 sailed in detachments on board the accompanying ships. Abraham Lincoln deployed for the first time with the SH-60B-To-Carrier Pilot system, a unique program that assigned the carrier to support these helicopters of HSL-47 while they operated throughout Carrier Strike Group 9. Shiloh, guided missile destroyers Benfold (DDG-65) and Shoup (DDG-86), Louisville, and fast combat support ship Rainier (AOE-7) sailed with the carrier at times.
The ship initially operated in southern Californian waters, to enable aircraft to accomplish accelerated training prior to flying combat missions. Several times during the deployment, the carrier’s Re-Fueling Station No. 21 caused operational problems, and on two separate occasions a weak link parted during replenishments with Benfold. The ensuing loss of tension caused birdcage on No. 2 saddle whip and spanwire. During a separate evolution, Abraham Lincoln also encountered a problem while alongside Shiloh, when a loss of tension damaged two four foot sections of hose, Nos 1 and 2 whip wires. The station sustained minimal damage in the first two incidents and required little more than two hours of repairs to return to ready condition; however, more extensive damage ensued in the accident with the cruiser, rendering the No. 1 whip wire inoperable until sailors fabricated a replacement, a task that required 44 hours. The carrier transited to Hawaiian waters for an advanced training period, where she emphasized flying for the air wing to gain what sailors humorously referred to as “Blue Water Certification.” The ship also monitored and maintained 250 tactical voice and data circuits supporting Carrier Strike Group 9, CVW-2, and Destroyer Squadron 9. Abraham Lincoln briefly visited NS Pearl Harbor while en route to the Western Pacific, on 5 and 6 November.
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggering a tsunami across the Indian Ocean littoral, on 26 December 2004. The waves reached heights of 30 feet in shallow waters and a width sometimes extending to six-miles, and the disaster killed more than 230,000 people. Combined Support Force 536 coordinated Operation Unified Assistance—multinational relief efforts. United States naval forces often reached disaster zones before international aid agencies, and aircraft delivered supplies and emergency responders to otherwise inaccessible inland areas.
Abraham Lincoln lay at Hong Kong when the disaster struck. “This was a horrible event. A lot of human suffering is involved,” Rear Adm. Crowder empathized. “We’ve got the capability to go in to an area and provide some help.” Many sailors began preparations to reach out to victims upon their own initiative, and the Navigation Department set-up charts for the Indonesian and Thai coasts. Orders directed the ship to assist relief efforts, and she sailed from Hong Kong on 28 December 2004. Upon arrival in the stricken region, the ship maneuvered off the Indonesian coast from positions near Banda Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra, which provided strategic locations near to the areas devastated by the tsunami, facilitating efforts to reach victims of the tragedy. Shiloh, Benfold, Shoup, and Rainier operated with the carrier.
Four SH-60B Seahawks of HSL-47 and some SH-60Fs and HH-60Hs of HS-2, embarked on board Abraham Lincoln, began to ferry supplies from collection points in Sumatra to victims, during the early morning hours of 1 January 2005. The helicopter intensive nature of the support missions required the Seahawks to log over 1,000 hours—more than three times the expected wear-and-tear on the helos during their standard deployments.
Some 1,200 crewmembers from Abraham Lincoln and CVW-2 volunteered to go ashore to help victims. The ship’s rewind shop repaired three motors from the sewage pumping and treatment station at Banda Aceh University Hospital. The rising waters had submerged the motors, and the repairs prevented the spread of disease. Sailors ingenuously manufactured special adaptors for some of the U.S. equipment that utilized the English system of measurements for use in the Metric system. Servicemembers also produced over 20,000 images, documenting to the world the plight of the people from the stricken area. Weather forecasters made nearly 1,000 observations and produced about 90 Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts that directly supported aircraft. A total of 103 Australian servicemembers reached out to victims from Abraham Lincoln, the ship’s Supply Department providing the Australians with berthing and meals.
Additional vessels that supported these operations included amphibious assault ships Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) and Essex (LHD-2)—which relieved Bonhomme Richard on 18 January 2005—dock landing ships Fort McHenry (LSD-43) and Rushmore (LSD-47), Duluth, Bunker Hill, Milius, Thach, and Coast Guard high endurance cutter Munro (WHEC-724).
Vessels of the Military Sealift Command also supported Unified Assistance including at times hospital ship Mercy (T-AH-19), combat store ships Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3) and San Jose (T-AFS-7), and fleet replenishment oilers John Ericsson (T-AO-194), Tippecanoe (T-AO-199) and Yukon (T-AO-202). Maritime prepositioning ships of the command that took part in these humanitarian relief operations comprised container & roll-on/roll-off ships PFC James Anderson Jr. (T-AK-3002), Cpl Louis J. Hauge Jr. (T-AK-3000), 1st Lt Alex Bonnyman (T-AK-3002), 1st Lt Harry L. Martin (T-AK-3015), 1st Lt Jack Lummus (T-AK-3011), and Maj Stephen W. Pless (T-AK-3007). Oceanographic survey ships John McDonnell (T-AGS-51) and Mary Sears (T-AGS-65) conducted hydrographic surveys of the ocean bottom off the Indonesian coast, near the epicenter of the earthquake, to collect data to assist in predicting natural disasters.
Because some of the marines embarked on board these ships had deployed to Iraq, the ships eventually gathered reinforcements that included four MH-53E Sea Dragons of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 Detachment 2, based in Bahrain, six CH-46E Sea Knights from Okinawa, Japan, and two additional MH-60S Seahawks of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC) 5, embarked on board Niagara Falls. A wide range of other naval aviation forces also supported the operation, including VRC-30, HC-11, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 352, and a Coast Guard HC-130H Hercules. Furthermore, Lockheed P-3C Orions of VP-4 and VP-8 relayed images of ravaged areas to support centers, enabling analysts to direct relief efforts where victims most needed help.
An SH-60F (BuNo 165085) of HS-2, designated Hunter 613, experienced a hard landing at Sultan Iskandarmuda Airfield near Banda Aceh at 0733 on 10 January 2005. Ten people were on board the Seahawk, four crewmembers and six passengers. A light rain fell and a mist rose at various times during the morning watch, which rendered visibility to an average of five statue miles, and at one point the temperature climbed to 91° F. Hunter 613 completed a 25 minute flight, executed a steep approach to an unprepared landing site located at the airfield. The Indonesian facilities lacked certain refinements familiar to Western aircrew, which had then been damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.
The Seahawk reached about 150 feet above the site when the helo yawed to port. Hunter 613 climbed to the left and approached again, but the aircraft rotated uncontrollably to the left, descended rapidly, spun to the left, and struck the ground in a slightly right wing down, nose level attitude, rolling over onto its right side. The accident injured a number of the people on board, though all survived. The ship’s Medical Department assumed a ‘high alert’ and prepared to receive mass casualties, but many of the department’s sailors worked ashore helping victims of the disaster. The doctors and nurses of the team then learned of the comparatively limited scope of the mishap and cared for the people upon their return, dispatching several of the casualties for treatment within the expanded medical facilities on board Bonhomme Richard. The other patients returned to Abraham Lincoln within 24 hours, but several of the passengers required Category 4 treatment and were flown to Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, Wash., and to Naval Hospital, Bremerton. The Seahawk sustained such damage that the Navy struck the helicopter from inventory.
Grateful Indonesians called Abraham Lincoln the “Gray Angel.” Indonesian Gen. Ryamizard, that army’s Chief of Staff, arrived on board the carrier to thank sailors on 26 January. Global interest in the catastrophe brought a total of 220 distinguished visitors, journalists, and foreign dignitaries on board. “It’s the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done in my naval career,” Lt. Matt Frauenzimmer, Abraham Lincoln Operations Administration Officer, noted. “It’s very rewarding to help your fellow man, and bring life and hope to people without hope. For a ship whose primary job is warfighting, it was neat being able to take all the capabilities we have, and to use it for humanitarian assistance. We were well equipped for that.”
Abraham Lincoln came about from Indonesian waters on 3 February 2005, and 11 days later Combined Support Force 536 ceased relief operations. President George W. Bush and President William J. Clinton visited Fort McHenry to thank servicemembers for their participation in Operation Unified Assistance on 20 February. Despite earthquake aftershocks and logistic problems, U.S. aircraft flew 1,747 missions and transported 3,043 passengers during these operations. Sailors and marines in these aircraft and on board the ships delivered 5.92 million pounds of supplies to people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
Abraham Lincoln visited Singapore from 5 to 9 February. The ship entered the Third Fleet as she sailed easterly courses for home on 21 February, and on 23 and 24 February visited NS Pearl Harbor. Abraham Lincoln returned from the deployment to NS Everett on 4 March 2005. The ship then completed a pierside maintenance availability at NS Everett from 7 March to 27 May. Capt. Charles A. McCawley relieved Capt. Card as the Commanding Officer on 17 March 2005.
From 1 to 23 June, Abraham Lincoln trained in northern Pacific waters during her quarterly integrated Strike Group Sustainment Training. The ship referred to this training as “sustainment operations.” During this period, the Navy announced the reassignment of the ship’s Security Division from the Weapons Department to the Operations Department, initially scheduled to take place prior to October 2005. The ship proactively accomplished this move by August. Abraham Lincoln rendesignated her Ship Self Defense Force the Naval Security Force, and utilized ship’s company to augment the force. The action thus established the Integrated Security Force; each department on board supported a team of 102 sailors who melded into the Security Division to protect the ship while she visited ports. This involved extensive training regimens for crewmembers, including tactical team movements and basic law enforcement procedures.
The ship completed a maintenance availability at NS Everett over 28 June to 26 August 2005. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in Washington, D.C., donated dozens of visual memorabilia items to the ship’s Lincoln Room, as well as several other locations around the carrier including Wardroom No. 3 on 15 July. One of the last-known photographs of the President, snapped by Alexander Gardner in 1865, took pride of place within the collection: an image that captured the worn and troubled brow of the man who led the nation through the Civil War, scant days before his assassination.
The ship established her Media Department, under the leadership of the Public Affairs Officer and Photo Officer, on 1 September. The department combined the photo lab, print shop, and public affairs department. Sailors from the Draftsman (DM), Journalist (JO), Lithographer (LI), and Photographer’s Mate (PH) ratings comprised the Media Department, and the Navy subsequently merged their duties into the Mass Communications Specialist (MC) rating in July 2006. Abraham Lincoln completed sustainment training in southern Californian waters from 8 to 26 September.
The carrier next accomplished surge sustainment training for the FRP and fleet replacement squadron carrier qualifications in southern Californian waters over 19 October to 16 November 2005. A key element of this training included JTFEx 05. The ship embarked CVW-2 and Commander Destroyer Squadron 9, and worked with Mobile Bay and guided missile destroyers Russell (DDG-59) and Shoup. In addition, Abraham Lincoln operated with Ronald Reagan from 4 to 8 November. Upon the conclusion of the training, Abraham Lincoln visited San Francisco to participate in Veteran’s Day Commemorations from 11 to 14 November. The Deck Department rigged the aft brow to a barge on the stern dock in order to receive ferry passengers.
Detailed history under construction
Mark L. Evans
4 April 2012