Gates Visits with USS Abraham Lincoln’s Crew

MUSCAT, Oman, Dec. 6, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates flew from here today to land aboard the USS Abra­ham Lin­coln for an overnight vis­it with the air­craft carrier’s 5,000-member crew.

 USS Abraham Lincoln
The air­craft car­ri­er USS Abra­ham Lin­coln tran­sits the Ara­bi­an Sea Dec. 5, 2010, while con­duct­ing flight oper­a­tions. The Abra­ham Lin­coln Car­ri­er Strike Group is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of respon­si­bil­i­ty con­duct­ing mar­itime secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions and the­ater secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion efforts to estab­lish con­di­tions for region­al sta­bil­i­ty.
U.S. Navy pho­to by Sea­man Adam Ran­dolph
Click to enlarge

The Nimitz-class super­car­ri­er is near­ing the mid­point of its sev­en-month deploy­ment sup­port­ing the war effort in Afghanistan.

After tak­ing a C-2 Grey­hound car­go plane to reach the Lin­coln, the sec­re­tary vis­it­ed the carrier’s com­bat direc­tion cen­ter and then spoke briefly with some air­craft mechan­ics near an F/A-18 Hor­net parked in front of one of the ship’s hangars. He then head­ed to a ward room for lunch with about a dozen enlist­ed sailors.

“Ask me ques­tions and tell me [the] things you need,” Gates told the sailors, not­ing he’d appre­ci­ate their unfil­tered view­points.

To show the sailors he was sin­cere in seek­ing their views, Gates told them that a ques­tion posed to him by an Army spouse dur­ing a sim­i­lar meet­ing at Fort Hood, Texas, led to a change in law that now per­mits ser­vice­mem­bers to trans­fer GI Bill edu­ca­tion ben­e­fits to their fam­i­lies.

“That was all because one spouse of an enlist­ed sol­dier asked a ques­tion,” Gates said.

The ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion was closed to the media pool cov­er­ing the vis­it.

After lunch, the sec­re­tary vis­it­ed the ship’s bridge, where Navy. Capt. John Alexan­der, the ship’s com­mand­ing offi­cer, pre­sent­ed him with a “skate­board” — slang for a wood­en plaque in the shape of an air­craft car­ri­er. “It doesn’t have wheels, but you can put them on lat­er,” Alexan­der joked as he hand­ed the plaque to Gates.

Gates then went to watch day­time flight oper­a­tions from Vulture’s Row, a cat­walk on the ship’s “island,” where he saw two F/A-18s take off with engines roar­ing and watched an E-2C Hawk­eye and an EA-6 Prowler land. He then went to one of the ships “ready rooms,” where pilots plan their flight oper­a­tions. Gates met with 25 pilots, shook their hands and hand­ed each a com­mem­o­ra­tive sec­re­tary of defense coin.

“Thank you for your ser­vice,” he told the pilots. A sub­se­quent ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion with the pilots was closed to the media pool.

The vis­it is the secretary’s first to a deployed car­ri­er, and while en route to Oman yes­ter­day, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell said it’s some­thing Gates has want­ed to do for a long time.

“He wants to thank the avi­a­tors and sailors of the Lin­coln per­son­al­ly, and by exten­sion, all who have served at sea in the region over the past decade,” Mor­rell said. “He knows what they do for the ground forces in Afghanistan, and he wants them to know he and the Amer­i­can peo­ple appre­ci­ate it.”

Gates praised the work per­formed by the Lincoln’s sailors and avi­a­tors, not­ing their efforts are an impor­tant part of the war effort, Mor­rell said. The USS Abra­ham Lin­coln pro­vides one-third of the fixed-wing close-air sup­port for ground forces in Afghanistan.

Through yes­ter­day, the carrier’s air­craft had flown 3,863 sor­ties total­ing about 9,300 hours dur­ing this deploy­ment -– which reach­es its halfway point Dec. 17 — includ­ing 1,571 sor­ties total­ing more than 4,000 hours in Novem­ber.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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