MUSCAT, Oman (NNS) -- The secretary of defense (SECDEF) flew from Muscat, Oman, Dec. 6 to land aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) for an overnight visit with the aircraft carrier's 5,000-member crew.
The Nimitz-class carrier is nearing the midpoint of its seven-month deployment supporting the war effort in Afghanistan.
After taking a C-2 Greyhound cargo plane to reach the Lincoln, SECDEF Robert M. Gates visited the carrier's combat direction center and then spoke briefly with some aircraft mechanics near an F/A-18 Hornet parked in front of one of the ship's hangars. He then headed to a wardroom for lunch with about 12 officers.
"Ask me questions and tell me [the] things you need," said Gates, to the officers, noting he'd appreciate their unfiltered viewpoints.
To show the officers he was sincere in seeking their views, Gates told them that a question posed to him by an Army spouse during a similar meeting at Fort Hood, Texas, led to a change in law that now permits service members to transfer G.I. Bill education benefits to their families.
"That was all because one spouse of an enlisted Soldier asked a question," said Gates.
The question and answer session was closed to the media pool covering the visit.
After lunch, Gates visited the ship's bridge, where Capt. John Alexander, the ship's commanding officer, presented him with a "skateboard" - slang for a wooden plaque in the shape of an aircraft carrier.
"It doesn't have wheels, but you can put them on later," said Alexander, joking as he handed the plaque to Gates.
Gates then went to watch daytime flight operations from Vulture's Row, a catwalk on the ship's "island," where he saw two F/A-18s take off with engines roaring and watched an E-2C Hawkeye and an EA-6 Prowler land. He then went to one of the ships "ready rooms," where pilots plan their flight operations. Gates met with 25 pilots, shook their hands and handed each a commemorative secretary of defense coin.
"Thank you for your service," said Gates, to the pilots.
A subsequent question and answer session with the pilots was closed to the media pool.
The visit is Gates' first to a deployed carrier, and while en route to Oman Dec. 5, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said it's something Gates has wanted to do for a long time.
"He wants to thank the aviators and Sailors of the Lincoln personally, and by extension, all who have served at sea in the region over the past decade," said Morrell. "He knows what they do for the ground forces in Afghanistan, and he wants them to know he and the American people appreciate it."
Gates praised the work performed by the Lincoln's Sailors and aviators, noting their efforts are an important part of the war effort, said Morrell.
Abraham Lincoln provides one-third of the fixed-wing close-air support for ground forces in Afghanistan.
Through Dec. 5, the carrier's aircraft had flown 3,863 sorties totaling about 9,300 hours during this deployment, which reaches its halfway point Dec. 17, including 1,571 sorties totaling more than 4,000 hours in November 2010.
For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.