No Relief in Sight for the USS Abraham Lincoln
By Ed Stanton
It has been three weeks since my ship, the USS Abraham Lincoln, arrived off
the Sumatran coast to aid the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Dec.
26 tsunami that ravaged their coastline. I?d like to say that this has been
a rewarding experience for us, but it has not: Instead, it has been a
frustrating and needlessly dangerous exercise made even more difficult by
the Indonesian government and a traveling circus of so-called aid workers
who have invaded our spaces.
What really irritated me was a scene I witnessed in the Lincoln?s wardroom a
few days ago. I went in for breakfast as I usually do, expecting to see the
usual crowd of ship?s company officers in khakis and air wing aviators in
flight suits, drinking coffee and exchanging rumors about when our ongoing
humanitarian mission in Sumatra is going to end.
What I saw instead was a mob of civilians sitting around like they owned the
place. They wore various colored vests with logos on the back including Save
The Children, World Health Organization and the dreaded baby blue vest of
the United Nations. Mixed in with this crowd were a bunch of reporters,
cameramen and Indonesian military officers in uniform. They all carried
cameras, sunglasses and fanny packs like tourists on their way to
My warship had been transformed into a floating hotel for a bunch of
trifling do-gooders overnight.
As I went through the breakfast line, I overheard one of the U.N.
strap-hangers, a longhaired guy with a beard, make a sarcastic comment to
one of our food servers. He said something along the lines of ?Nice china,
really makes me feel special,? in reference to the fact that we were eating
off of paper plates that day. It was all I could do to keep from jerking him
off his feet and choking him, because I knew that the reason we were eating
off paper plates was to save dishwashing water so that we would have more
water to send ashore and save lives. That plus the fact that he had no
business being there in the first place.
My attitude towards these unwanted no-loads grew steadily worse that day as
I learned more from one of our junior officers who was assigned to escort a
group of them. It turns out that they had come to Indonesia to ?assess the
damage? from the Dec. 26 tsunami.
Well, they could have turned on any TV in the world and seen that the damage
was total devastation. When they got to Sumatra with no plan, no logistics
support and no five-star hotels to stay in, they threw themselves on the
mercy of the U.S. Navy, which, unfortunately, took them in. I guess our
senior brass was hoping for some good PR since this was about the time that
the U.N. was calling the United States ?stingy? with our relief donations.
As a result of having to host these people, our severely over-tasked SH-60
Seahawk helos, which were carrying tons of food and water every day to the
most inaccessible places in and around Banda Aceh, are now used in great
part to ferry these ?relief workers? from place to place every day and bring
them back to their guest bedrooms on the Lincoln at night. Despite their
avowed dedication to helping the victims, these relief workers will not
spend the night in-country, and have made us their guardians by default.
When our wardroom treasurer approached the leader of the relief group and
asked him who was paying the mess bill for all the meals they ate, the
fellow replied, ?We aren?t paying, you can try to bill the U.N. if you want
In addition to the relief workers, we routinely get tasked with hauling
around reporters and various low-level ?VIPs,? which further wastes valuable
helo lift that could be used to carry supplies. We had to dedicate two helos
and a C-2 cargo plane for America-hater Dan Rather and his entourage of door
holders and briefcase carriers from CBS News. Another camera crew was from
MTV. I doubt if we?ll get any good PR from them, since the cable channel is
banned in Muslim countries. We also had to dedicate a helo and crew to fly
around the vice mayor of Phoenix, Ariz., one day. Everyone wants in on the
As for the Indonesian officers, while their job is apparently to encourage
our leaving as soon as possible, all they seem to do in the meantime is
smoke cigarettes. They want our money and our help but they don?t want their
population to see that Americans are doing far more for them in two weeks
than their own government has ever done or will ever do for them.
To add a kick in the face to the USA and the Lincoln, the Indonesian
government announced it would not allow us to use their airspace for routine
training and flight proficiency operations while we are saving the lives of
their people, some of whom are wearing Osama bin Ladin T-shirts as they grab
at our food and water. The ship has to steam out into international waters
to launch and recover jets, which makes our helos have to fly longer
distances and burn more fuel.
What is even worse than trying to help people who totally reject everything
we stand for is that our combat readiness has suffered for it.
An aircraft carrier is an instrument of national policy and the big stick
she carries is her air wing. An air wing has a set of very demanding skills
and they are highly perishable. We train hard every day at sea to conduct
actual air strikes, air defense, maritime surveillance, close air support
and many other missions ? not to mention taking off and landing on a ship at
Our safety regulations state that if a pilot does not get a night carrier
landing every seven days, he has to be re-qualified to land on the ship.
Today we have pilots who have now been over 25 days without a trap due to
being unable to use Indonesian airspace to train. Normally it is when we are
at sea that our readiness is at its very peak. Thanks to the Indonesian
government, we have to waive our own safety rules just to get our pilots off
In other words, the longer we stay here helping these people, the more
dangerous it gets for us to operate. We have already lost one helicopter,
which crashed in Banda Aceh while taking sailors ashore to unload supplies
from the C-130s. There were no relief workers on that one.
I?m all for helping the less fortunate, but it is time to give this mission
to somebody other than the U.S. Navy. Our ship was supposed to be home on
Feb. 3 and now we have no idea how long we will be here. American taxpayers
are spending millions per day to keep this ship at sea and getting no
training value out of it. As a result, we will come home in a lower state of
readiness than when we left due to the lack of flying while supporting the
tsunami relief effort.
I hope we get some good PR in the Muslim world out of it. After all, this is
Americans saving the lives of Muslims. I have my doubts.
Ed Stanton is the pen name of a career U.S. Navy officer currently serving
with the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group. Send Feedback responses