Captain praises ‘greatest warship’

You’d think a presidential visit to an aircraft carrier would rank high on Navy Capt. Kendall Card’s list of highlights during his command of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Capt. Kendall Card shares his appreciation in an address to his crew aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on Thursday.

But President Bush’s visit had to compete with the homecoming at the end of that deployment during the war in Iraq and the recently completed aid mission to Indonesia after the south Asian tsunamis.

Card said farewell to the Lincoln’s crew this week as he passed the command of the Nimitz-class carrier to Capt. C. Andrew McCawley.

Card, who was the skipper for 21/2 years, is leaving the Lincoln to work on the staff of Adm. Timothy Keating at U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

It’s a bittersweet switch for Card, who also served as the Lincoln’s second in command in the late 1990s.

“It’s a great warship. And I call it the world’s greatest warship, because I believe it,” Card said.

“This warship is capable of doing anything,” Card said, before correcting himself.

“It’s really the crew that’s capable of doing anything. They turn this ship to life,” he said.

The Texas native has a self-deprecating sense of humor and a fondness for phrases such as “early is on time.” He became the Lincoln’s seventh commanding officer, replacing Capt. D. K. Dupouy two deployments ago when the ship was sent to the war in Afghanistan.

“I don’t really have too many jobs here,” Card said. “The commanding officer really has, I like to say, two main functions. And that’s the head safety officer and the head cheerleader.”

“My number one job is to take care of sailors. They get the ship from Point A to Point B,” he said.

Card joined the ship as the war in Afghanistan was winding down. The Lincoln was then sent to the Persian Gulf to enforce the no-fly zone in Iraq, but Card knew before he reported to the ship that there was a chance the warship might not make it home on time.

He recalled an earlier meeting with Adm. Timothy Keating in Bahrain, who asked Card when the ship was due to return home.

When he had his answer, the admiral added: “Well, Kenny, the way things are going, I really don’t think that’s going to happen. But we’ll see.”

The Lincoln was on its way back to Everett in early January 2003 when it was told to turn around. War with Iraq seemed certain.

“Ninety-eight percent of the crew just said, yes, we’re the guys to go,” Card said. “We’re trained, we’re ready, we’re in the right place at the right time. This is our mission; we need to go back.”

Some sailors, however, had heartache about the extended deployment, which eventually lasted 290 days.

“Those were the kinds of issues we had to work through. But I was very proud. The crew worked through it.”

Bush visited the Lincoln as the carrier made its way home from the war and thanked the crew. That wasn’t the high point of Card’s time on the Lincoln, though.

He’s quick to say what was: Seeing 30,000 people waiting in Everett to welcome the ship home

“You never forget that. That’s what makes it the best port in the world. And that is not a paid political advertisement,” he said.

“I’m telling you, I have never seen a bigger homecoming, I have never experienced anything like it.”

The Lincoln returned from a five-month deployment in early March leading the humanitarian relief effort to help those who survived the devastating Dec. 26 tsunamis in south Asia.

While the president’s visit had been No. 2 on Card’s Lincoln highlight list, helping the tsunami survivors kicked the commander in chief’s visit down to No. 3.

Card, a helicopter pilot, flew two missions into Banda Aceh to deliver supplies. On one, he flew out a little girl who had two broken legs.

“Empty your helicopter of rice and water into a landing zone with a bunch of starving children. You want instant gratification, it’s that,” he said.

Card says the crew should get the credit.

“You see those folks working that flight deck all day long, you walk down to the propulsion plant and you see them down there sweating … pulling major machinery in and out for repair. You see people in the mess decks cooking the 20,000 meals a day,” he said. “It’s not hard to get inspiration here.”

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