- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — After nearly 10 months at sea, the USS Abraham Lincoln returned to its home port yesterday morning, greeted by thousands of people deliriously waving signs, blowing kisses and carrying red, white and blue balloons.About 3,000 sailors were aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which tied up to its home pier at Naval Station Everett shortly after 10 a.m.”I think it’s awesome,” said Everett High School student Natash Kippenhan, 15, who was among the welcoming throng. “They went out for 10 months to protect a lot of people and now they get to come home.”Tulalip tribal members offered a welcome song as the vessel approached its berth.”It’s neat that we can do this,” said tribal veterans coordinator Gene Zackuse, 54. “I was in the Vietnam conflict. We never had anything like this.”The first to disembark were the ship’s 87 new fathers, whose wives and babies were waiting at the front of the giddy crowd. Also at the head of the line were 13 winners of a “first-kiss” raffle.Carrying two bunches of red roses, Fire Controlman Antonio Myers, 25, ran into the arms of his wife, Tameka, and gave her a big kiss. Then he grabbed his 4-month-old son, Amiri, who blinked at the strange new fellow holding him.”It was tough when we found out he got extended, but me and the neighbors, we just tried to hold together and tough it out,” Mrs. Myers said.The 1,100-foot ship left Everett on July 20 for a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf in support of the global war on terrorism. It was headed home in December, then in January, received orders to turn around and head back to the Gulf.It ended up being one of the longest deployments of a nuclear-powered carrier since Vietnam.The sailors were visited Thursday by President Bush, who made a dramatic tailhook landing on the carrier, then in a nationally televised speech declared that the Iraq war’s heaviest combat was over. On Friday, the ship arrived at San Diego, where approximately 1,500 crew members exited. It left for Everett on Saturday.The Lincoln’s crew “just did a fantastic job in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat. “The air war was critical to getting this done in three weeks, dropping 1.6 million pounds of ordnance and degrading enemy divisions.”The Lincoln was one of five carrier battle groups that launched air and missile strikes against Iraq during the war. It was relieved by the USS Nimitz on April 10 and renewed its journey home.

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