Rear Adm. Michael E. Boyle told reporters at Coronado’s Navy base that the Lincoln’s deterrence effect allowed America to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East — “and you can take that to the bank.”
After saying the Lincoln crew was happy to be home at its new (and former) port, he declared: “If anybody tells you that the carrier is no longer relevant or no longer needed, they need to have their head examined.”
Boyle said that if Iran had decided to continue to escalate tensions, “they did that with the knowledge that just over the horizon was Abraham Lincoln. And the firepower that comes with this ship, the air wing and its strike group.”
(The carrier Harry S. Truman replaced the Lincoln* a couple weeks before the Jan. 3 airstrike that killed a top Iranian general, but the Lincoln was scrambled to the region May 9 amid the urging of then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, who called the move against Iran a reaction to a “number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”)
Central Command having response options during the strike group’s seven months in the area was a credible deterrent, Boyle said.
“Of course, we [were] on the edge of our seat — we’ve got an unknown adversary,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what they’re going to do.”
But he said the group’s training and dedication “got has us in a great spot to take on all comers.”
He and the Lincoln’s commanding officer also defended the longest deployment since Vietnam — and the longest ever by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
“But the reality is — in the world today — we’re going to put an aircraft carrier wherever we need to put an aircraft carrier, and we’re going to leave them there as long as we need to leave them there,” Boyle said.
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He acknowledged the 294-day deployment was hard on sailors and their families.
But “they were able to work themselves through that,” Boyle said on the dock before nearly 6,000 sailors disembarked. “We stayed after that by being transparent with the crew and let them know exactly what we knew.”
He said that as the Lincoln passed the USS Midway, now a docked museum, “we looked over and said: There’s the record holder. We’re right behind her.” (The Midway was out for 327 days in 1973, the Vietnam era.)
Capt. Walter M. Slaughter — commanding officer of the Lincoln, which served in the Pacific Fleet from 1990 to 2011 — parried several questions about the long deployment.
He said the crew knew its mission and took it in stride.
“I won’t say they liked it, but they get it,” he said. “And we did our job. And they did it well.”
Boyle said this long deployment wouldn’t be the “measure” in the future.
“But it’s the nature of the world,” he said, “and we’ve got to be ready to do whatever the Navy and the nation needs us to do. And this particular time out they needed us to stay on station for as long as we did, which was just shy of 10 months.”
Slaughter was asked what he’d tell family members of the crews.
“We cannot do it without your support,” he said. “I’ve said it over and over, and the families know this, we can’t thank them enough for their support. They are the ones that enable us to do our job. And it’s their support back home, it really pushes us through. I would just say: Thank you.”
Many families had the added burden of moving thousands of miles from the Lincoln’s former home port of Norfolk, Virginia.
Katie Johnson, waiting for husband, Brian, said: “Moving across the country is hard. You take it day by day. I can’t wait for a home and to be a whole family unit. We’re going to soak up all of the family time we can.”
In any case, “San Diego is our home now. You make wherever you are home.”
Kristen Reddick, whose daughter was on the Lincoln, has been playing mom to her grandchildren — Jack, 6, and Easton, 5.
“I’m really ecstatic,” she said of the reunion with daughter Kadie after moving out from Norfolk. “I just want to hug her.”
Reddick said this deployment has been a rough one, but “I wanted to make sure I did everything the way she would have done it.”
Talya McElhaney was waiting to see her husband, Jayson.
A local Jewish Community Center has given good support to her and her two children, but “home doesn’t feel right without him. Home is where he is.”
A reporter noted how good the ship looked as compared to the carrier Roosevelt that left on Friday.
“That’s a testament to the Lincoln Nation and the young men and women that take good care of the ship,” said Slaughter, the skipper. “We’re in as good a shape today as we were when we left Norfolk on April 1st.”
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that the Lincoln was in the Arabian Sea at the time of the U.S. drone strike on Iran Gen. Qasem Soleiman.
Updated at 11:13 p.m. Jan. 20, 2020