Indonesia: Help us, but you can’t train here
Edited mostly for space is a disturbing report from Ed Stanton, the pen name chosen by an officer serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln:
“It has been over three weeks since my ship, the USS Abraham Lincoln, arrived off the Sumatran coast to aid the victims of the tsunami. I’d like to say this has been a rewarding experience for us, but it has not. Instead, it has been a frustrating and needlessly dangerous exercise made even more difficult by the Indonesian government and a traveling circus of so-called aid workers who have invaded our spaces.
“What really irritated me was a scene I witnessed in the wardroom a few days ago. I went in for breakfast expecting to see the usual crowd of ship’s officers. Instead, I saw a mob of civilians sitting around like they owned the place. They wore various colored vests with logos on the back including Save The Children, World Health Organization and the dreaded baby-blue vest of the United Nations. Mixed in with this crowd were a bunch of reporters, cameramen and Indonesian military officers in uniform. Overnight, my warship had been transformed into a floating hotel for a bunch of trifling do-gooders.
“I overheard one of the U.N. strap-hangers tell one of our food servers, ‘Nice china, really makes me feel special,’ in reference to the fact that we were eating off of paper plates that day. It was all I could do to keep from choking him because I knew we were eating off paper plates to save dishwashing water so that we would have more water to send ashore and save lives.
“When they got to Sumatra with no plan, no logistics support and no five-star hotels to stay in, they threw themselves on the mercy of the U.S. Navy, which, unfortunately, took them in. So, our severely over-tasked helicopters, which were carrying tons of food and water every day to the most inaccessible places in and around Banda Aceh, were used to ferry these so-called relief workers ashore and bring them back at night. Despite their avowed dedication to helping the victims, these relief workers would not spend a night in-country.
“Our wardroom treasurer asked them who was paying the mess bill for all the meals they ate? He was told, ‘You can try to bill the U.N. if you want.’
“We were routinely getting tasked to haul around reporters which further wastes valuable helo lift that could be used to carry supplies. We had to dedicate two helos and a C-2 cargo plane for Dan Rather, and his entourage.
“The Indonesians want our money and our help but they don’t want their population to see that Americans are doing far more for them in two weeks than their own government has ever done or will ever do for them. The Indonesian government will not allow us to use their airspace for routine training and flight proficiency operations. So, our combat readiness is suffering.
“Our safety regulations state that if a pilot does not get a night carrier landing every seven days, he has to be re-qualified to land on the ship. Today, we have pilots who have now been over 25 days without a landing due to being unable to use Indonesian airspace to train. The longer we stay here, the more dangerous it gets for us to operate. We have already lost one helicopter, which crashed in Banda Aceh while taking sailors ashore to unload supplies from the C-130s. As a result, we will come home in a lower state of readiness than when we left. I hope we get some good PR in the Muslim world out of it. After all, these are Americans saving the lives of Muslims. But, I have my doubts.”
Nota bene: The U.S. has withdrawn the USS Abraham Lincoln from the relief operation.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.