ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea. (NNS) -- USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 are heading home for their respective home ports. A usually joyous occasion for any deployment, this is Lincoln's second time heading home on this one.
The warship was scheduled for a normal six-month deployment when it left in July to support Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Southern Watch (OSW), but was extended New Year's Day shortly after leaving a port call in Perth, Australia, only to return to Perth, and then operations in the Arabian Gulf.
The extension guarantees Lincoln to be the longest deployed carrier in three decades.
The deployment started with a lot of firsts and ended with even more. The deployment launched the first operational deployment of the F/A-18E Super Hornet and the trial run for the man overboard indicator.
It has ended up becoming the first carrier deployed for longer than nine months since 1973, saw extensive combat operations during OEF and OSW, and led the Navy's part in the opening days during the "shock and awe" campaign of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
"I'm very proud of everything this crew has accomplished," said Rear Adm. John M. Kelly, Abraham Lincoln battle group commander. "I know the extension has been tough, and everyone's missing their loved ones, but it was important for us to hold the line and support our ground troops."
In the first 17 days of OIF alone, CVW-14 aircraft dropped more than 1.3 million pounds of ordnance in support of the war.
Many Americans back home were able to catch a glimpse of Lincoln's shipboard life, thanks to the largest media embed on any ship in naval history.
At one point during OIF's opening days, Abe was home to 31 media including CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and a host of others.
To make it to this point of deployment, Lincoln traveled 102,816 nautical miles and used a record 21 million gallons of JP-5 jet fuel to launch and recover aircraft an amazing 12,673 times -- all mishap free.
The ship earned the Battle "E" award for 2002, even with turnovers in leadership. Commanding Officer Capt. Kendall Card took command upon entering 5th Fleet in November 2002, three months into deployment. The day after taking command, CVW-14 aircraft launched from his new ship to fly strike missions in the (then) southern no-fly zone over Iraq.
"You have accomplished something never before seen in the history of naval warfare," said Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, commander, 5th Fleet. "As a battle group and carrier, no one has ever done it as flawlessly as you have," Keating told the crew during a visit before they left the 5th Fleet area of operation.
When Keating talked of reuniting with loved ones, the atmosphere changed as some Sailors let down their guard to think about seeing them, even though the only sight the crew sees many days is the surrounding waters.
With all that surrounding seawater, Abraham Lincoln's reactor department has worked overtime to continue to produce all the water used for galleys, showers, laundry, drinking and catapults. To keep up with the increased tempo of wartime operations, they've turned seawater into 80 million gallons of usable water.
Drinking water, in conjunction with 47.5 million sodas and 42,300 gallons of milk, helped wash down 50,600 lbs. of chicken, 27,272 lbs. of steak, 16,000 lbs. of shrimp, and 29,000 lbs. of hamburgers over the course of the deployment.
All the food was served by Abe's S-2 division that won its second-consecutive "Ney Award" for food service excellence.
Just a day after leaving the Arabian Gulf, Abe's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Department filled the war-weary flight deck with swimming pools, a volleyball court, dunk tank, as well as eats and drinks for the ship's third "steel beach picnic" of the deployment.
To enhance crew morale, MWR used talent shows, concerts of the ship's band "Man Overboard," hangar bay basketball, live DJs, a Harley-Davidson raffle and numerous games of "Big Bucks Bingo" shown on SITE TV.
All of this has been between port calls in Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and two trips each to Bahrain and Perth, Australia.
Perth, Australia, was Abe's "Home for the Holidays" during Christmas and again after New Year's to make repairs to Abe's flight deck, which already had more than 8,000 traps in the first six months.
There are no new port calls on the horizon for Abraham Lincoln Sailors. All hands are focused on one final destination - home.
The commanding officer, holding his cards close to the vest, waited until after the final steel beach picnic to make the official announcement over the 1-MC.
"With the extension, and all of the changes to the ship's schedule," said Card, "I wanted to make sure I was sure before making anything official. Right now we're 835 miles from the strait and heading east. We're going home!"
For related news, visit USS Abraham Lincoln's Newsstand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn72.