BANDA ACEH, Sumatra (NNS) -- American Secretary of State Colin Powell and Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush made a historic visit to the tsunami-stricken region of Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, Jan. 5. Both men were sent to visit the area by President George Bush to asses the situation and report what action the United States can do.
As their plane landed on the small airstrip at Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport, Powell and Bush were greeted by Rear Adm. Doug Crowder, commander, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Strike Group (ALCSG), the Indonesian Minister of State and other officials from Banda Aceh. The party made their way toward an SH-60 Seahawk attached to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 2 in order to get a firsthand aerial account of how badly the region was affected.
"We flew them over Banda Aceh, and then to two towns to the west (Lhor Nga and Tanjung Labuhan)", said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Leavitt, who piloted the flight. "It's great that they were able to see everything firsthand, because it will help them to report back to the president and help make a decision on what needs to be done."
Upon returning from the flight, Powell spoke with the pilot and his crew to thank them for their help.
"He made a point to thank the crew of the Abraham Lincoln as well," said Leavitt. Powell said that the carrier Abraham Lincoln is the image of America in the world's eyes, according to Leavitt.
After a short tour of the medical tents being maintained by ALCSG medical staff and volunteers from numerous other countries, Powell and Bush made their way to a group of the international press standing by with their questions.
Powell approached the podium with Bush and various other U.S. State Department members to tell the reporters about what they had just seen.
"We've all seen pictures on our television sets and in our newspapers of the damage that occurred here," Powell said. "Only by seeing it in person in a helicopter flying low over the city can you get a real appreciation of what it must have been like when the tsunami came through and caused so much death and destruction. I have a better understanding of what the needs of Banda Aceh are, and what the challenges the Indonesian government will be facing in the weeks and months ahead."
Powell, a combat veteran with an extensive military career, said the destruction on the ground at Banda Aceh was unlike anything he had ever seen.
"I've been in war, I've been through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other relief operations, but I've never seen anything like this," Powell said. "Flying over Banda Aceh and seeing how the wave came ashore pushing everything in its path. Cars, ships, freighters overturned all the way up to the foothills. I cannot begin to imagine the horror that went through the families and all of the people who heard this wave coming and had their lives snuffed out by this wave."
Powell also briefly spoke of the U.S. Navy's presence and the vital role Sailors are playing off the coast and on shore.
"We have a number of ships off of the coast now, and we'll be increasing the number of helicopters that will be available to support the Indonesian people in the next few days," he said.
Upon Bush and Powell's departure, Capt. Lawrence Burt, Carrier Air Wing 2 commander, took a moment to reflect on the ALCSG mission and the opportunity to have the visitors take what they had seen back to Washington.
"The mission we're doing here is really important," said Burt. "It's really important that they get to see this, so they can better represent what we've got going on out here back to our own government and citizens back home."
For related news on Navy tsunami relief operations, visit the Focus on Tsunami Relief Operations page at www.navy.mil/local/tsunami.
For related news, visit the Pacific Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cpf.