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COM dean visits U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln

Special to Kalamalama by Dr. Helen Varner


News coverage of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln assisting the tsunami relief effort evoked memories of my November visit to this city at sea. The Lincoln is not a cruise ship. It is a warship that can launch four aircraft a minute from a 4.5-acre flight deck. This Nimitz-class aircraft carrier carries seven different types of aircraft and has fought in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. When deployed, the Lincoln is the nucleus of a battle group that includes guided missile cruisers, destroyers, frigates, replenishment ships, and submarines. The Lincoln battle group and air wing fired the opening salvos and launched the opening air strikes in Operation Iraqi Freedom. During 10 months of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Lincoln group expended more than 1.6 million pounds of ordnance and flew 16,500 sorties. It was to the Lincoln that Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush came to announce “mission accomplished” and to demonstrate the appreciation of a grateful nation.

I was one of a group of 16 local community leaders from Kane‘ohe and Kailua offered an opportunity to visit the Lincoln Nov. 29-30. With my husband, Dr. Foy Varner, I embarked with this group at 7 a.m. from Pearl Harbor, spent the night aboard the ship, and was catapulted off the deck the next day, on a flight back to Hawai‘i. Crammed into that day and a half were tours of most of the ship and visits with crew members. It was an amazing adventure!

he carrier is a floating city with more than 5,600 people on board. It has a post office with its own zip code, stores, hospital, libraries, and television and radio stations. Training is constant, and about 300 crew members are working on a college degree at any one time. (I met with the education officers, of course!)

The ship can generate enough power to supply electricity to 100,000 homes, and it can distill more than 400,000 gallons of fresh water from the sea each day. Since fresh drinking water is such a critical need in disaster relief, I expect that during its south Asia mission, the crew is restricted to three-minute showers so that more water is available for those whose lives depend on it.

This is not the first time the carrier has responded to a natural disaster. On its way to Operation Desert Storm in 1991, it was diverted to help in the evacuation following the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Republic of the Philippines. The carrier spearheaded a 23-ship fleet that rescued more than 20,000 active duty military personnel and family members and relocated about 45,000 people from Subic Bay Naval Station in the largest peacetime evacuation in history. Then the Lincoln headed for the Arabian Gulf and Operation Desert Storm to provide combat air patrol, reconnaissance and support air operations over Kuwait and Iraq.

Although the carrier has food and supplies to operate for 90 days, it is accompanied by refueling ships. We watched as the carrier and a fuel ship cruised together for hours with umbilical cords pumping fuel across the gap. Later, on the flight deck, we saw a steam catapult slam a 37-ton jet into the air, pushing it from zero to 180 miles per hour in less than three seconds. To me, the takeoffs were exciting but landings were terrifying. Incoming planes hook onto one of four arresting wires that drag the aircraft from 150 miles per hour to zero in less than 400 feet. Despite the protection of headphones to muffle sound, the catapults and arresting wires are loud enough to create sound waves that literally pummel the body.

I expected to be impressed with the might of this warship. I was surprised by the admiration I felt for the crew, many of whom are similar in age to HPU’s student population. Women now fly in combat, and I saw them in leadership posts all over the ship. As an example, there are two people on the aircraft carrier who can authorize combat—the ship’s captain and the head of combat operations, a 26-year-old woman.

Although crew members were young in years, they were focused, thoroughly trained, dedicated, professional, and very proud to be serving their country. I know that our nation’s defense is in good hands, and I am sure that those hands are equally capable in the disaster relief they are providing today.

The Lincoln has an excellent Web site at for those who would like to learn more.



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