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.
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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