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January 11, 2005

A Letter from the Lincoln

The following is a letter from a member of the USS Abraham Lincoln off Indonesia who is aiding in the relief effort.

Subject: Letter from the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln

Hello family and friends,

I just spent three days ashore at Banda Aceh working to assist all of those in dire need in Indonesia. I thought you might like to hear what we have been doing.

Stationed aboard the Abraham Lincoln we were in port [at] Hong Kong on the morning of 26 Dec when we heard of the massive earthquake and devastating Tsunamis in the Bay of Bengal. As soon as we were aware of the horrible destruction we departed Hong Kong and headed South at best speed - without any official request from governments.

As we proceeded, we were completely unaware of what we could do or even if we would be needed, but we continued through the Strait of Malacca enroute to Indonesia and Thailand. Our mission was quickly defined and we were tasked to assist Indonesia as best [and] as able. To do so we requested volunteers aboard the ship to assist. The response as you can imagine was overwhelming as all sailors want to do is help any way possible. We also knew that this would be a job for the SH-60 Helicopters we have aboard.

We have currently shut down the flying for all carrier fixed wing aircraft (that's me) as there was no mission or request. For the first time in my 17 year Naval career, I have seen us stop flying tactical fixed wing aircraft- the primary purpose of an aircraft carrier completely as all of our focus is on this disaster.

We arrived off the north shore of Indonesia on the morning of January 1st. I was in the first wave of helos sent ashore to establish a logistical hub and move supplies from Banda Aceh airport - only a few miles from the destroyed north coast of the island. Not knowing what to expect as we lifted off the deck, we were quickly given a glimpse as we could see numerous corpses floating in the water. There were large clusters of debris that looked like one time houses floating in piles scattered all over the ocean. As we approached the decimated shore we saw a cargo ship that was at least 300 feet long capsized on the beach. Proceeding further inland we were amazed that the coastal town was gone. You could see outlines of where foundations once were, but as the earthquake shook them loose, the Tsunamis washed everything out to sea. As we continued inland, the devastation was evident more than 2 miles from the coast. We then approached very green and lush mountains - a sharp contrast to the leveled brown terrain of the decimated coast. We climbed in the helos over these 2,000 foot peaks and entered an area of surreal, beautiful countryside. We arrived at the airport to a scene of confusion and near chaos. Six days after the disaster and there was no infrastructure in place to assist these people. About 500 displaced Indonesians who had survived had made their way to the airport in search of a flight out of the area - southeast to the safe havens of Medan or Jakarta where there is little or no damage. Upon arrival, there was one only other American military member at the airport - an Army Major who had made his way up from the Embassy in Jakarta. A few Australians were already there and had set up a basic logistics hub to accept supplies. The Indonesian military had a base here as well and were accepting supplies but had no way other than trucks which could not travel on the destroyed roads to move the food and water.

Being a Prowler pilot with NO helicopter flying abilities, I was sent in to be the Carrier Air Wing Two liaison to move supplies. Realizing there was no one to liaise with, myself and my squadron mate, Lt _________ became the primary coordinators to make this relief effort happen. Arriving at 0900, we were able to coordinate with the Indonesians and the NGO's (Non-Government Organizations), and within an hour have our first load of relief supplies moving down the west coast. The two primary NGO's, USAID and IOM (International Organization of Migration) have been invaluable in the establishing of assistance. They have a small medical tent with trained doctors capable of triaging and stabilizing patients. USAID has amazing logistical support to gather supplies from all over the world. The one thing both of these organizations lacked was the ability to distribute supplies to the people in need. That is were we came into play.

We have set up a system now to have twelve of our Helicopters flying from sunrise to sunset to assist. We have been carrying everything from biscuits, rice, noodles, milk, water and medical supplies. We transport doctors and medical staff as well. The Indonesian people are in need of everything. Their homes along the coast have been washed away and we are finding them wondering aimlessly with no ability to acquire food, water or badly needed medical assistance. They all lack the ability to communicate as all phone lines are destroyed and there is no electricity. As our pilots drop off these supplies there are stories of the Indonesians hugging them with relief and joy. Our pilots then fly North to return back to Banda Aceh for resupply and they are finding small pockets of personnel who do not have any aid. They are able to pick many of them up and fly them to Banda Aceh. Most are near death. Yesterday we had a helo land with seven badly injured or dehydrated personnel all in critical condition. One was a seven year old little girl. The doctors told me we saved her life as she would not have lived through the night. I couldn't help but think of my beautiful daughters and it was then that I realized the gravity of what we really were doing.

We will continue this effort as long as we are needed. It is difficult to imagine shifting back to fixed wing flight ops and leaving the area any time soon as the work to be done is almost insurmountable. We have been working hard with the hordes of press who badly need to tell this story. I enlisted the support of my squadron mate, LCDR __________ to specifically deal w/the media. With every flight or two that we send down the coast, we embark a two man journalist team, as well as member of the IOM to coordinate with any injured or displaced persons who need our help. Yesterday we hosted Dan Rather and his CBS crew for a 60 minutes evening magazine special he was doing that should air sometime this week in the states. I had breakfast with Mr. Rather aboard the carrier as we discussed the days' events and what he would like to see. He and his staff's graciousness and professionalism impressed me. We have flown Mike Chinoy from CNN and correspondents from all the major US and international networks and newspapers. If something is coming from Banda Aceh, the US Navy has helped them get their story.

I must say a few words about the volunteer effort here - it is truly an effort of amazement. I see on the news the incredible outpouring of support from the US - it is a wonderful and necessary thing. The effort here at sea is equally as impressive. These young sailors are all extremely eager to get ashore and do whatever is needed despite the threat of disease and the obvious destruction. My squadron alone has already put numerous sailors ashore to assist with the loading and moving of the helos. I have never been so proud to be a member of the US military. We often are focused on keeping the peace and deterring evil acts. To now be able to have a direct impact in saving lives and attempt to rebuild a society is a testament to the United States' amazing resolve and capabilities. I thank you all for your efforts and your support. Please continue to keep the Indonesians in your thoughts and prayers. As of today this country alone is approaching 100,000 deaths from this disaster- we need to do all that is possible to mitigate any further suffering or loss of life.

My best to all,

Dusty | Permalink | Comments (3) | Spirit of America
» links with: Tsunami relief work by the United States Navy.
» EagleSpeak links with: First responder report from the tsunami zone
» Common Sense Runs Wild links with: U. S. Military Gives Aid