USS Lincoln Sailors Greet Deputy Defense Secretary
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan. 15, 2005 U.S. sailors warmly welcomed Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and a delegation of other senior officials today during a visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln, 8 to 10 miles off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.
Aboard the Lincoln, Wolfowitz; U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia B. Lynn Pascoe; and Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told a group of sailors from Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 47, embarked aboard the Lincoln, that their work is saving lives.
Fargo thanked the sailors on behalf of himself and Wolfowitz, and added, "There are a lot of Americans out there who want to thank you as well."
Wolfowitz said it's important to transfer control of relief efforts in Indonesia over to local officials as soon as practical for the sake of the people involved. "Victims and survivors have a need to be involved and doing things," he said. "The sooner you can get them taking care of themselves instead of (relying on others), I think, will psychologically benefit them."
Wolfowitz told the sailors their work goes far beyond being "angels of mercy" because Indonesia is a very important country in terms of U.S. security.
"There are more Muslims in Indonesia that in any other country in the world," he said, "but it's a country where Islam is not the state religion." Christianity and Buddhism also are widely practiced in Indonesia.
The Lincoln's timely arrival in the disaster zone on Dec. 31 "saved enormous numbers of lives," Pascoe said. The ship and its carrier strike group were afloat in the South China Sea when they received orders to move to Indonesia.
Pascoe said Indonesians he deals with are very appreciative of U.S. help. "One thing the Indonesians are never going to forget is who was there first," he said.
Aboard the ship, Wolfowitz, Fargo and Pascoe also received briefings on medial relief efforts and the ship's operations. An expert with the World Health Organization, Rob Holden, said aid and military agencies both on and offshore are doing "a remarkable job in a short period of time."
The ship's skipper, Capt. Kendall Card, told reporters traveling with the party that eight-person health-assessment teams go ashore to several locations every day via helicopter. The teams -- composed of one U.S. Marine, one Indonesian soldier and six medical experts in a variety of specialties -- move among 18 landing zones in Indonesia. This mission has become more challenging in recent days, because people are beginning to repopulate small villages that are harder for the teams to reach, Card said.
U.S. helicopters from the Lincoln and from the USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, afloat in the Indian Ocean, have proved invaluable in delivering relief supplies to remote areas. To date, Card said, helicopters from the two ships have delivered 2.2 million pounds of relief supplies. On Jan. 14 alone, helicopters flew 86 missions, delivered 333,000 pounds, and carried 156 passengers.
Indonesian government representatives direct where the missions go. "They are definitely in charge and in control," Card said.
The captain said his sailors and Marines find the relief missions "very rewarding work."
"We don't have any shortage of volunteers," he said.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David Loiselle, an aviation warfare systems operator aboard the Lincoln, said this relief work is one of the most rewarding things he's ever done.
The 29-year-old sailor said the amount of devastation was 100 times worse than he had expected. "It looked like somebody had just take a giant Weedwacker to the entire coast," he said. "I never saw anything like it -- never thought I'd see anything like it."
Loiselle said he has been ashore on missions almost every day since Jan. 1. He said getting married has been the best thing that happened to him since joining the Navy in 1993. "But other than that," he added, "my single biggest personal gratitude is rescuing people. I'd much rather do that than shooting people."