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First-hand account of Indonesian relief - Letter from the USS Lincoln

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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:07 AM
Original message
First-hand account of Indonesian relief - Letter from the USS Lincoln
The following is a letter from CDR T.R. Williams, who is deployed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, to friends in the US. It was received Sunday, Jan 9. CDR Williams has given me permission to post his unedited letter on the internet so that people can read his first-hand account and get a sense of what it is like in the thick of the Indonesian relief effort. At about 2 AM EST Jan 11 he wrote: "Thanks for your support. You have my permission to post my letter as is on your web sites. .... I am pleased that support continues to grow. These people are in very dire need. We continue to do all possible to assist."
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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 inport 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 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 noone to liaise with, myself and my squadron mate, Lt Ken "Jub" Velez 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 Dave "Smack" Edgarton to specifically deal w/ the media. With every flight of 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,
Ted

CDR T.R. Williams
Executive Officer, VAQ-131


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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:55 AM
Response to Original message
1. Please keep this kicked!
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Leilani Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 04:19 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. What a wonderful post!
KICK!
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 04:59 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. I agree. I hope his letter attracts the response it deserves n/t
Edited on Tue Jan-11-05 05:00 AM by Nothing Without Hope
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mohinoaklawnillinois Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 06:16 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Here's another kick. This post needs to be seen by
reading DU today.
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 11:26 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. And another kick. Will have to repost tonight if it's not noticed
Because I agree, it needs to be seen by DU readers.
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proud patriot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 11:34 AM
Response to Original message
6. It's great to hear a first hand account
I'm proud of our aid efforts :-)
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Blue_Roses Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 11:57 AM
Response to Original message
7. what a great letter
it's so inspiring to see the work they are doing there. :)
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 02:39 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. ...and another kick. I wish they would put this on the home page
I'm tempted to nominate it, and may do so if it continues to go largely unnoticed. After all, it isn't really "my" post -- it's a letter written by someone else and posted in support of what they are doing.
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Cuban_Liberal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 02:43 PM
Response to Original message
9. THIS is what America does best, y'all!
Edited on Tue Jan-11-05 02:43 PM by Cuban_Liberal
Don't confuse Bush with the great men and women who honorably serve our country.

:)
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sandnsea Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 02:48 PM
Response to Original message
10. Thank you
For the post and all service members who are helping. I was always taught that doing good comes back to you tenfold. Simple philosophy that this Administration generally misses completely. These acts of generosity will do more to win the "war on terror" than all the weapons in our arsenal.
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soup Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 02:55 PM
Response to Original message
11. Well done, sailors.
Thank you so much for sharing this letter with us.
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Florida_Geek Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 02:57 PM
Response to Original message
12. CNN and CBS.... on the ship
Where or where is FOX....

Great letter....

Until this came up I did not know the amount of fresh water an aircraft carrier could generate.....
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:06 PM
Response to Original message
13. kick
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5thGenDemocrat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 12:10 AM
Response to Reply #13
14. As an Army veteran, I never thought I'd say this -- but
GO NAVY!! Keep up the fine work -- the people of Indonesia need and deserve our help, as do so many others in southeast Asia. The Lieutenant Commander and the sailors involved in this effort deserve our thanks and our support.
John
Just think how much more we could do if we weren't wading through that quagmire in Iraq.
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 12:29 AM
Response to Reply #14
15. Thank you! I know he and his people will enjoy your comment.
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reorg Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 01:09 AM
Response to Original message
16. So the US military is doing something useful for a change? Good for them.
Just two points. He says:

"We often are focused on keeping the peace and deterring evil acts."

O, really? How and when and how often? I was under the impression that the US military was up to no good for at least 3 years now, that is not counting the ten years before that, and they were always doing the contrary of "keeping the peace".

And another thing: USAID is not a "primary NGO" -- where have we come to when even an officer is not able to tell a government agency from an NGO? They have good logistics? Dude, that's what they're for, that's what they are supposed to have, payed by your government, by your taxes.


I'm glad that you all are really enthused about this letter. In my view, however, it is a propaganda effort. They should continue with doing something useful for a change, don't get me wrong, but it is propaganda just as well. Hail the military? Not.

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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 01:29 AM
Response to Reply #16
17. The officer made no attempt to publicize this originally private letter
His family sent it to friends, who sent it to their friends, whereupon I got it. I was so struck by it that I asked the family member in the original email if I could post the letter, and after asking the officer, she gave me his email address. He then gave me his permission to post the letter he had originally written for his family. "The military" is not behind this. This is a story and a situation that is about individual human beings, whether they are in the US Navy, civilian volunteers, or any of the many other people trying to bring relief to the survivors. It began as a private letter to the officer's family, and he made no move to publicise it.

I am encouraging support of this letter for the benefit of the individual sailors on that ship who are working so hard and also to give a first-hand account of what the relief efforts are like on the ground. I was moved by what the letter said. Again, I do not see it as propaganda, and it was certainly not intended that way.
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5thGenDemocrat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 03:29 PM
Response to Reply #16
20. I've waited until today to respond to your post, reorg
I, like you probably, think the military has entirely too large a budget. We spend something like $1.2 billion a DAY on "defense" and, as a veteran, I am all too aware that much of it simply disappears down a rathole or, worse, into the pockets of military contractors for gee-whiz projects and into pork for favored congressional districts.
I don't know what the USS Abraham Lincoln cost to build, but it was assuredly a heaping buttload. Nuclear aircraft carriers are among the most expensive items on our military shopping list.
That said...
The Lincoln carries aboard a number of water desalination and purification plants that produce literally tens of thousands of gallons of absolutely pure water daily (cleaner than you get out of your tap). This water is used to cool the reactors or, in this case, can keep thousands of innocents from dying through the simple expedient of dehydration.
These plants are enormously expensive, as you might suppose. Thus, when I, too, find myself ranting about what it is that the military does, exactly, and why it costs so goddamned much money -- I would prefer that the answer is "we are saving human lives" as opposed to "getting the ragheads."
I'd say the same about the helicopters deployed aboard the Lincoln. Expensive, yes. But just as capable of saving lives as of taking them. And, since they're going to fly and since it costs money whether they fly for purposes of destruction and death or, as here, for reasons of humanitarianism and life (or whether they don't fly at all), I say get 'em up and send us the bill.
I doubt very much that the Lieutenant Commander is writing his letter for propaganda purposes. I suspect he is proud of this particular mission and of the men and women performing it. Saving precious life is the very highest calling any of us can ever aspire to. So he should be proud and I'm proud of these sailors and soldiers, too. I suspect most posters here, present company excluded, are as well.
John
My wise ol' grandma used to say "There's so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it don't behoove none of us to talk about the rest of us." I hope you have a wise ol' grandma, too.

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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 03:58 PM
Response to Reply #20
21. We need more grandmas like yours
Thanks for the clarification as well as the support.
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 02:22 PM
Response to Original message
18. kick n/t
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theboss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 02:48 PM
Response to Original message
19. Awesome letter
Glad there are people like him on the ground there.
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-12-05 04:23 PM
Response to Original message
22. kick
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-13-05 02:44 AM
Response to Original message
23. and another kick
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