Change at Lincoln’s helm

NAVAL STATION EVERETT – Navy Capt. C. Andrew McCawley knows the exact size of the shoes he’ll have to fill. They’re size 17, triple E.

Michael V. Martina / The Herald

Capt. C. Andrew McCawley, new commander of the USS Abraham Lincoln, salutes as his predecessor, Capt. Kendall Card, steps down at the end of a change-of-command ceremony on the carrier Thursday.

McCawley took the helm of the USS Abraham Lincoln during a change-of-command ceremony Thursday aboard the aircraft carrier. Much of the ceremony was devoted to honoring outgoing skipper Capt. Kendall Card, though the praise was often shrouded in good-natured jabs about his shoe size and his reluctance to remove his hat for photos because of his lack of “executive hair.”

Card leaves after serving as skipper during the Lincoln’s deployment to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and most recently as the lead ship in the military’s humanitarian relief effort after the south Asia tsunamis.

Card gave all the credit for the ship’s success to the Lincoln’s sailors. His job, he said, was only to point the way.

“They did everything else. Everything else,” Card said. “Trust me.”

The changeover ceremony was held while the Lincoln is moored at Naval Station Everett, a rare sight in recent years. And a change-of-command ceremony at the Lincoln’s home port was also uncommon, the first time it’s been held here since 1997.

Card took command of the ship in November 2002 just as the Lincoln’s role in the war in Afghanistan was winding down. He commanded the ship during the rest of its deployment, which stretched 290 days after the Lincoln, on its way home, was ordered to return to the Persian Gulf as war with Iraq appeared imminent.

Rear Adm. William Douglas Crowder, commander of the Lincoln’s carrier strike group, welcomed McCawley as the new commander, but also lauded Card for his tour aboard the Lincoln.

Crowder called Card “first class,” then read a long list of words that he found in his dictionary under that definition. They ranged from “superior” to “priceless,” from “terrific” to “top notch.” Crowder finished with his favorite word of the pick for Card, “groovy.”

Before thousands of sailors gathered in one of the carrier’s hangars for the ceremony, Crowder recalled how the Lincoln was expected to deploy in May but was sent to sea seven months early with just 30 days notice.

A routine deployment that began in October turned into a mission of mercy after the tsunamis devastated south Asia. Helicopters from the Lincoln and its strike group flew 1,737 missions and delivered 5.9 million pounds of supplies to Indonesian villages devastated by the tsunamis.

“Under Kendall’s leadership and perseverance … thousands of lives were saved,” Crowder said.

The Lincoln helped change Indonesian opinion about the United States, he said.

McCawley, the former commander of the amphibious ship USS Juneau, said it was an honor to be taking command of the Lincoln. The ship has an unrivaled record of achievement, McCawley said, and that’s because of the “soul of the warship” – its crew of more than 5,000.

“You have brought freedom, relief, hope and light to many parts and many people around the world,” he said.

“I am proud to consider myself one of your shipmates.”

McCawley is the Lincoln’s eighth commanding officer.

A Hingham, Mass., native, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1980 and was awarded his aviator’s wings two years later.

He has since served aboard the carriers USS Kitty Hawk, USS Independence and USS Carl Vinson.

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