City at Sea
The USS Abraham Lincoln, boasting fire-power, manpower and an awesome array of statistics, visits Thailand for exercises and R&R
The seven-storey-high flight control centre of the USS Abraham Lincoln, one of the world’s largest air-craft carriers.
Two-thousand-seven-hundred litres of milk, 2,160 eggs, 280kg of hamburgers, 360kg of vegetables and 400kg of fruit is just one day's order to keep more than 5,000 people combat-ready on the world's largest warship - the USS Abraham Lincoln.
On Thursday, the vast ship moored at Laem Chabang, Chon Buri, making history as the first US aircraft carrier ever to dock at the port.
"We are here to get some rest and relaxation for our crews, and to join in some exercises with the Royal Thai Navy," said Rear Admiral John Goodwin, officer in charge of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group.
Having visited his senior Thai counterparts at Sattahip, Goodwin said he is expecting more exercises in the next couple of days. However, questions about where USS Abraham Lincoln is headed next are met with a gruff: "We don't discuss our future plans."
It's not the first time USS Abraham Lincoln has visited Thailand. However, on past occasions she anchored off the coast in the Gulf of Thailand and was tended by supply ships.
Last year she was also in nearby waters, providing humanitarian assistance to tsunami-affected areas, particularly Banda Aceh. Its most significant help was providing fresh water, which it produces on board with its own water purification plant, Goodwin said.
Named after the 16th president of the United States, the construction of USS Abraham Lincoln began in 1984. It took four and a half years and US$4.5 billion (Bt183 billion at the exchange rate of the mid-1980s) to complete the mega-warship, said the Abraham Lincoln's public affairs officer, Lt-Commander John Filostrat.
The Abraham Lincoln is the fifth of the US Navy's nine Nimitz class aircraft carriers - the world's largest warship category. The 10th Nimitz carrier, named after President George HW Bush, is under construction.
When deployed, the Abraham Lincoln is accompanied by two destroyers and a cruiser, to ward off attacks.
In its 16 years of service, the Abraham Lincoln has been "deployed" - effectively, sent to war - on eight occasions. Most of them were in the Middle East, including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. It also hosted President Bush when he gave his "victory" speech over the war in Iraq in 2003.
The Abraham Lincoln is nearly double the size of Thailand's largest helicopter carrier, HTMS Chakrinaruebet. Its flight deck is about 333 metres long and 80 metres wide, making an area of more than 1.8 hectares - roughly three football fields. It is 18 decks high and is powered by two nuclear reactors. Lincoln's water purification system can produce 400,000 gallons of fresh water a day.
When fully loaded, the Abraham Lincoln is heavier than 110,000 tons and can carry up to 70 planes, Filostrat said. The aircraft can be launched at a rate of one every minute.
In combat, its powerful steam catapults can accelerate a 37-ton jet from zero to more than 280km per hour in less than three seconds. For landings, four arresting wires can stop an aircraft flying at 240km per hour in less than 120 metres.
In its current "crew", the Abraham Lincoln has about 2,000 airmen, 3,200 seamen and 30 admiral staff - and, despite the titles, 10 per cent of them are women.
"They are doing great jobs and are, in every way, as capable as our male crews," Filostrat said, referring to women working as sailors, pilots and in dozens of other positions on the giant ship.
To make long journeys tolerable, the Abraham Lincoln boasts all the amenities needed to make the crew feel at home.
After long days of heavy work, crewmembers can relax with five TV channels, several radio stations and a newspaper. They can visit the library or the chapel in their free time, can shop at convenience stores and get groomed at barber's shops. There are even ATMs on board for the crew to draw down some cash, but they don't accept outside credit cards.
Sometimes, the ship's recreation department organises events on board, including sports and what's called a "steel beach picnic" - a barbecue on the flight deck, Filostrat said.
Internet, international phone and postal services (Lincoln's zip code is 96612-2872) are also available for crewmembers to keep in touch with their families. A father of six children ranging from two to 18 years old, Filostrat said he keeps in touch with his family by e-mail and telephone.
Despite all the amenities, it is generally accepted that life on board the Abraham Lincoln is tough.
"When we're at sea, we work 24 hours a day," said Petty Officer 3rd class Norranut Sutakul, 27, one of two Thai-born Americans on the Abraham Lincoln. He works in the ship's combat systems department, which takes care of the Abraham Lincoln's extensive computer system, and like computer service personnel anywhere, he's always getting calls asking for assistance. He said that despite working in shifts, people still feel exhausted at the end of the day.
The long hours of work and the strict discipline, which includes a ban on both alcohol and on-board relationships, leads every crewmember to look forward to going ashore.
"Getting out of the ship is what we consider fun," Filostrat said.
This is, of course, good news for Pattaya, which is just down the road. With a huge shipload of 5,000 people wanting to get their feet on solid ground and the best of Thai hospitality for a few days, the city can expect a windfall of millions of baht, courtesy of the US Navy.