EVERETT — No. 72 is loading up and preparing to head out.
When the USS Abraham Lincoln pulls away from its homeport of Naval Station Everett for the final time early next month, Charlotte Alexander expects she’ll stand on the pier waving to her husband, Capt. John Alexander, the commander of the aircraft carrier.
For some of the warship’s 3,000 crew members and their families, the departure means a move to Norfolk, Va. There the Lincoln is scheduled for a four-year overhaul and refueling of its nuclear reactors that should prepare the ship for another 25 years of service.
Many people in Snohomish County may not realize how sailors on the Abe become tied to the local landscape and woven into the fabric of the community, Capt. Alexander said.
“We’re embedded in the schools, the soccer teams, the churches,” Alexander said. “The Lincoln has been a fixture in Everett for 15 years — 15 of the 22 years since the ship was commissioned. That’s a long time. We will leave a footprint.”
The idea of leaving Everett to move to Virginia is heartbreaking for Tracie Holley, 28, who grew up in the Southwest.
“I’m from the desert, so I fell in love with the Northwest. Even the rain,” said Holley, the wife of Navy Airman Jeremiah Holley and mother of their toddler Miah Holley. “Anybody who gets stationed here is lucky.”
Alexander, like many other Lincoln crew members, must wait to see what happens after the Lincoln’s upcoming deployment in the Middle East and them the trip to Virginia. They’ll get their new assignments next year. Potentially, some could return to work in Everett.
In the meantime, leaving the Northwest also is difficult for Capt. Alexander, who has lived for years in Washington state on different assignments. Memories and friendships in this state rival those in his native Texas where 29 years ago he joined the Navy. He and his wife, both 51, and their children learned to love the outdoors in Washington state. Now grown, their kids still return to ski at Stevens Pass.
After her balding, good-natured husband says goodbye and the Lincoln gets under way in a couple weeks, Charlotte Alexander, an energetic redhead, plans to drive home to the Navy housing neighborhood in Lake Stevens where she’ll wait out his deployment.
As the Lincoln makes its way to serve in the Middle East, the carrier USS Nimitz, No. 68, is scheduled to tie up in January at its new Everett homeport, joining the current carrier group of frigates and destroyers based here.
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At a lunchtime farewell reception for the crew of the Lincoln earlier this month, Charlotte Alexander talked with other Navy wives while she waited for her husband to arrive at the event, which was thrown by groups including the Navy League.
“Did you see the awesome ice sculpture of the Lincoln and the fancy buffet? It’s clear that the ship has been a big part of this community,” she said. “And the crew knows how much we are supported and appreciated here.”
Taking breaks from their maintenance work on the Lincoln, sailors wandered in and out of the reception, loading up their lunch plates.
Across the sea of blue work uniforms, called “aquaflage” by the sailors, Charlotte Alexander spotted her husband chatting with the governor’s husband, Everett native Mike Gregoire, and other dignitaries.
Cmdr. Mike Thibodeau, a commissioned officer who serves under Alexander on the Lincoln, joined the conversation.
The Lincoln crew is looking forward to its around-the-world cruise following the warship’s deployment, said Thibodeau, an upstate New Yorker. Navy deployments don’t usually include circumnavigations, he said.
Eventually, though, Thibodeau would like to return to Everett. He and his wife bought a house on Camano Island this year.
“I love the mountains and the water. I have to be near the water,” he said. “But more importantly, it’s about the relationships we’ve fostered over time.”
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Arguably, no one in Everett during the past eight years has been more supportive of the Navy’s presence here than Mayor Ray Stephanson.
The mayor likes to talk about the USS Abraham Lincoln and how he is proud of the missions of mercy performed by the crews of all the Navy ships based in Everett.
He is fond of saying that the behemoth aircraft carrier “decorates” Port Gardner. And when he heard last December that the Navy would bring the USS Nimitz to Everett after the Lincoln leaves, Stephanson hailed the news as his “best Christmas present ever.”
It’s more than emotion, however, and more than things like the fact that the Everett Silvertips hockey team’s mascot is named Lincoln and the bear’s jersey number is 72, same as the ship’s hull number.
With an annual payroll of more than $230 million, Naval Station Everett is Snohomish County’s second-largest employer, right behind Boeing. Thousands of civilians and active duty military personnel work fulltime at the base. The USS Lincoln, its crew and their families, bring an estimated $100 million into the local economy, Stephanson said.
For the mayor and many others, the Lincoln is an icon of the city.
Since the Lincoln arrived in Everett in 1997, the warship has sailed away and returned many times from training exercises and deployments.
On one of those trips, the crew endured a record-setting 10-month deployment at the beginning of the Iraq war. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the Lincoln and declared the end of major combat in Iraq with a “Mission Accomplished” banner hung overhead.
The community support when the warship arrived home days later cemented its place in Everett, said Pat McClain, the city’s executive director for governmental affairs.
The sailors and officers of the Lincoln were greeted by tens of thousands of onlookers. It was one of Everett’s biggest civic celebrations, ever.
NBC News broadcaster Tom Brokaw called the homecoming crowd of 30,000 people the biggest welcome of its kind since World War II, McClain said.
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Before he died in 1983, U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, lobbied the Navy brass and city officials for a base in Everett.
The hawkish Democrat saw bringing the Navy to Everett as a way to support his hometown and the nation’s defense in the post-Cold War years.
“The idea then was that it would help protect the entire Pacific Rim,” said David Dilgard, history specialist at the Everett Public Library. “In the end, it turned out that Jackson was looking out for us, no matter how you view it. When the Lincoln came into our lives, Weyerhaeuser was leaving.”
Retired Herald reporter Jim Haley, of Edmonds, agrees that Naval Station Everett is a legacy of Scoop Jackson.
Haley, considered knowledgeable by many because he covered the Navy for 25 years, believes the community will forever have an affection for the Lincoln, much in the way a person does for his or her first love.
“The aircraft carrier made a statement just by being here,” Haley said.
Covering the Navy was an education and an adventure for Haley.
“Scoop Jackson and Navy Secretary John Lehman promulgated the idea that the Navy should spread out its fleet. Even after Scoop died, he had injected so deeply into the city and community that people such as Everett Mayor Bill Moore, who drove a tank in World War II, ran with the idea,” Haley said. “Support of the military was a matter of civic pride. Most people wanted the Navy.”
It took years of political battles, protests by environmentalists and the anti-war movement and finally the struggle to find the money to build the Navy base.
Haley watched the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings in Washington, D.C. He flew to Norfolk, Va., and San Diego, Calif., to visit aircraft carriers.
And later while covering stories aboard the Lincoln, Haley got to watch fighter jet landings on the carrier deck and talked his way into letting the captain let him help park the Lincoln at the Everett pier.
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When the air crew is on board the Lincoln, it’s a traveling city of 5,000 people.
Along with radio announcements and a newspaper called the Lincoln Penny Press, sailors produce videos to keep the crew informed and entertained.
People who follow the Lincoln crew on Facebook know about the periodic posts of video clips from “The Boat Show.”
Sailors are interviewed during a portion of every episode of Boat Show broadcasts and they seem to enjoy the chance to express their opinions on a variety of subjects.
With their final farewell pending, crew members were asked in the latest edition of the show to talk about what they will miss most about Everett.
Here’s what some had to say, along with comments from sailors at the recent reception for the crew.
They will miss the scenery. The culture. The food. Fresh fish.
Wearing winter clothes in the summer. (Not.)
Long misty walks down the pier to the ship. (Sometimes.)
The Silvertips, AquaSox, Seahawks and Mariners.
Outdoor activities such as snowboarding and hiking.
Their friends in Lake Stevens, Marysville and Snohomish.
Friendly community members.
And the barking of the sea lions off the pier.
Send us your memories
Do you have a favorite memory or photograph of the USS Abraham Lincoln?
Perhaps you toured the ship on an Independence Day or were one of the thousands of people who welcomed the carrier home from deployment in May 2003. Or maybe you’re a veteran who served on the ship and have a good story to tell.
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Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.