ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- In the early morning hours of March 20, the dispersal of U.S. Air Force F-117 bombers and missile launches from submarine and surface warships marked the opening scene of "Operation Iraqi Freedom."
With the attack, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Sailors, along with 250,000 other American troops, went to work on an operation that had changed talk and speculation to a definite reality.
"Operations to disarm Iraq have begun," said President George W. Bush in an address to the nation. "On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war."
The president added another message for the quarter-of-a-million Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines deployed to the Arabian Gulf region.
"The peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you," he said. "That trust is well placed. The enemies you confront will soon know your skill and bravery. The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military."
Bush also spoke to the families and friends of the deployed troops.
"Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent. For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people."
Lincoln Sailors seemed upbeat as they looked into the eyes of war.
"The morale in my shop went up," said Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Jose Maldonado, a Sailor from Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department's (AIMD) IM3 Shop. "Everyone is motivated today."
He stressed crew members are not celebrating war, but instead are celebrating Abraham Lincoln's legitimacy after serving eight months of an extended deployment.
"We know we're out here for a true reason now, and we're getting to do the job we came here to do," said Maldonado. "I emailed my sister today to tell her I was well," he said of his family in the United States. "I told her to turn on CNN (Cable News Network).
"I told her about Capt. (Kendall) Card playing 'Proud to be an American,' over the 1-MC this morning. I couldn't help but smile about that as I told her about it."
Maldonado said he is close with his mother and he looks forward to seeing her again.
"I know she's worried," he said with a smile. "I keep telling her I'm doing fine."
Maldonado, on temporary duty from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), said he was glad he volunteered to join Abe's AIMD Department on this cruise.
"I got my third class, a Battle "E," my EAWS (enlisted air warfare specialist), and with everything that is going on now, I've gotten more than I ever wanted."
Despite his position on an American warship, Maldonado has high hopes for the future of the Iraqi people.
"I hope they will be free like we are," he said. "Hopefully, they will see the Americans that we are, and not the ones we're portrayed to be in the Middle East."
Only his fifth day on board, Seaman Apprentice Curtis Blunck said he is up for the challenge that lies ahead. In reference to the Gulf War of 1991, he stressed that action should be taken so we do not have to do it again 12 years from now.
"It gives me a good feeling," said Blunck. "It should give everyone here a good feeling."
Reflecting on America's latest conflict, he spoke of how he read about wars in history books, and how his service now will be recorded in history books to come.
"Now I realize why all of the old people I know who served always love to tell stories," he said. "They have a lot of pride in what they did for their country. When we get out of here, I'll be proud, too."
The young Sailor knew his mother was very worried back home. Blunck is one of two sons currently deployed on Abraham Lincoln.
"I know there's not a day that goes by that she doesn't think about us," he said.
Though coalition forces may have missed their "leadership target" March 20, the battle had indeed begun.
For related news, visit the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn72.