The U.S. aircraft carrier that led a massive tsunami relief operation steamed away from the disaster zone Thursday after a mission that helped repair America's bruised image in the world's most heavily populated Muslim nation. The USS Abraham Lincoln, with a crew of 5,300, formed the core of the largest foreign military deployment in the area and the most extensive U.S. operation in Southeast Asia since the Vietnam War. Helicopters from the ship flew hundreds of missions to deliver food, water and other aid along the devastated western coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Its departure was the single biggest drawdown of the American relief effort. U.S. officials said last month the emergency phase of the relief effort was ending and the military would gradually withdraw. About 5,000 of the 15,000 U.S. servicemen who had been deployed were pulled out last month. The Lincoln's departure will leave some 5,000 U.S. military personnel aboard other ships around Sumatra. The ship headed for Singapore and was expected back in its home port of Everett, Wash., in mid-March. "I'm glad to have been out here to help," said Craig Stark, a sailor from Memphis "We did our time and did some good deeds for the people — but it is great to go home." In Sumatra, survivors have welcomed the Americans warmly and greeted helicopter crews with broad smiles — an attitude mirrored by government officials Thursday in a nation where many strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72)
with the Hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20)