USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- The secretary of defense (SECDEF) visited the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Dec. 6 in the Arabian Sea.
The visit marked the first time SECDEF Robert M. Gates has been aboard a deployed aircraft carrier.
Gates visited Lincoln to see firsthand the ship supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Upon arriving aboard Lincoln in the early morning, Gates was welcomed by Rear Adm. Mark D. Guadagnini, commander, Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, and Capt. John D. Alexander, commanding officer, Abraham Lincoln.
In the ship's hangar bay, Gates met with aircraft maintenance personnel alongside one of Abraham Lincoln's more than 40 F/A-18 Hornets. In addition, Gates met with shipboard machinery repairmen who showed their vast capabilities to manufacture and repair complex equipment and machinery parts.
Gates then ate lunch with a number of junior enlisted Sailors in a personal setting where he answered individual questions.
"It was a life changing experience," said Yeoman 3rd Class Matthew Rodgers, from San Mateo, Calif., and assigned to the Sun Kings of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 116.
Rodgers was one of 12 junior Sailors given the opportunity to meet the secretary during lunch.
Gates' personal visits with junior Sailors also included watchstanders navigating the ship on the bridge, aviators in a squadron ready room and chief petty officers on the ship's bridge wing.
Gates addressed more than 3,000 crew members during an all hands call in the hangar bay, after he administered the oath of enlistment for 13 Sailors during a reenlistment ceremony. He also answered questions for more than 20 minutes after his remarks and recognized 50 outstanding Sailors selected for their hard work and dedication.
"I wanted to re-enlist to continue my career in the Navy and re-enlisting with the SECDEF is a once in the life opportunity since not everyone gets the chance to do it," stated Logistics Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Ingry Lopez, from Los Angeles.
Ingry re-enlisted for four years and is assigned Lincoln's supply department.
"It was my honor to have a picture taken with the honorable Mr. Gates, and I was so excited to receive his coin! I am a coin collector and having his is priceless," said Lopez.
While addressing the crew, Gates praised the strike group for their exception record at the halfway point of their deployment.
"First and foremost, this visit gives me the opportunity to thank all of you for your service," said Gates. "The quality of Sailors and aviators on board this ship today is unprecedented in the history of our nation."
Meeting the defense secretary is a highlight of the deployment Lincoln Sailors will not soon forget.
"This day will definitely go in my wall of great naval memories," Lopez said.
The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility conducting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts to establish conditions for regional stability.
For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.