USS Abraham Lincoln stops off in Hawaii amid long deployment
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 9, 2020
HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and more than 5,000 sailors arrived Wednesday in Pearl Harbor for a port call after sailing from Norfolk, Va., and serving unexpected and yeoman duty in the Middle East as an Iranian deterrent.
The near-record 9½-month deployment also shows how tensions with Iran can pull assets from the Pacific, where the United States is competing with China for presence and power.
Several days of serious rest and relaxation are up next for the crew, whose last port call was in Bahrain, officials said.
“I just want to relax and put my feet in the sand, maybe go up to the North Shore and watch some of the big waves this time of year,” Rear Adm. Michael Boyle, who is on the Lincoln as commander of Carrier Strike Group 12, said after the Lincoln docked.
Boyle added it will be good to get off the ship and “get a little bit of space from the 6,000 of your closest friends (which is) the highlight for everybody on board.”
The 1,092-foot flattop, displacing 97,000 tons, is moving home ports from Norfolk to San Diego.
Deployment extensions in part due to electrical fixes needed on the relieving carrier USS Harry S. Truman meant tossed-out homecoming schedules and missed holidays for the “Abe” crew.
Rylee Johnson, waiting near Hotel Pier in a light rain for her husband, Petty Officer 3rd Class David Johnson, 25, to disembark, said the deployment was, “Terrible. Not fun at all.” She added that it was “the uncertainty of anything” that made it that way.
As of Wednesday, the Lincoln had been deployed for 283 days, with the record for post-Vietnam War carrier deployments standing at 290 days, according to U.S. Naval Institute News.
The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group left Naval Air Station Norfolk April 1 with a cruiser and three destroyers for what was billed by the Navy as a “regularly scheduled deployment.”
The carrier was in the Mediterranean with its sights on a stop in Split, Croatia, when it was rerouted, according to then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests” would be met with “unrelenting force.”
Bolton said the step was being taken “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
In the May 5 statement, Bolton also said a bomber task force was being dispatched. The exact threat wasn’t specified.
“We had never planned to be in the Middle East. We had planned to be in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific,” Boyle said. “But again, we’re a dynamic force that can maneuver as required based on world events. And so world events over the last six months or so drove us to be in the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea.”
Boyle said seven months were spent in the North Arabian Sea.
“We went up into the Persian Gulf one time, but most of our sailing was down in the Arabian Sea, so off the coast of Oman, but within reach of Iran,” he said.
As the strike group passed through the Strait of Hormuz about 18 Iranian fast-attack boats “came out to say hello and gave us a nice parade,” Boyle said. He added that the Lincoln “was ready, but they (the Iranians) were safe and professional. Nothing that caused any alarm.”
On Nov. 22, the strike group began air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Military.com reported that the air wing flew 392 combat sorties in Afghanistan and Syria.
By Dec. 23 the carrier was in the South China Sea after transiting the Strait of Malacca connecting the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.
“I think the crew did an outstanding job and they really handled the stress and the extension very well,” Boyle said. “I frequently told the crew that, ‘Hey, we’re here (in the Middle East) for the right reasons. We’re supporting coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan, we’re supporting U.S. forces as we withdraw from Syria and we’re providing the United States a deterrent option against Iran and the ability to respond if Iran was to do something dumb.’ ”
Lt. Kelli Morrissey, 28, a dentist on the Lincoln who grew up in Kailua, said her fiance was flying in later Wednesday.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my parents — they are waiting on the pier,” she said, adding she was also looking forward to “just relaxing, eating some good poke bowls and spending some time in the sun.”