Hail to the Chief

Moravian alum witnesses history

Photo by Grant M. Haller/Seatle Post-IntelligencerSomewhere behind the police tape and President Bush in the central photo is Mark Strohl ’99, a crew member of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, from whose deck May 2 the president pronounced the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq.

The aircraft carrier was about four hours out of San Diego when the president landed. A former member of the Texas Air National Guard, he briefly took the controls of his aircraft, which you can see on its final approach in the photograph above.

The Abraham Lincoln was chosen for symbolic reasons, of course. “I assume you realize that he came to my ship because we’re the first carrier back from the war,” Mark e-mailed us. Its carrier group also has been at sea for 10 months, the longest deployment of an American warship since the Vietnam War.

Mark already was aboard when the carrier was assigned to support Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Southern Watch (enforcement of no-fly zones over Iraq). The ship was on its way home in February when it was reassigned to support combat operations in Iraq.

CNN Photo“I wasn’t on the flight deck to meet the president when he arrived,” Mark said. His job—he is part of a team that maintains and repairs fighter jets—rarely takes him there, he explained.

The only personnel allowed on the flight deck when the president landed were those who normally are stationed there, plus the ship’s captain and Rear Admiral John Kelly, commander of the Abraham Lincoln battle group.

“The president ate in the mess decks before giving his speech,” Mark continued. “Some friends of mine that are cooks got to serve him dinner.

“Then everyone was allowed to watch his speech. It seemed like everyone tall got there early! I had a very bad view—I was way in the back—but I could see him. It was like watching the State of the Union address—we constantly had to clap.” Before the President arrived, he said, Good Morning America visited the ship. “They had some of us cheering with signs.”

Though he missed an actual presidential handshake, Mark has met General Tommy Franks, commander of allied forces participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, when Franks attended a USO show, sang a duet with Neal McCoy, and worked the crowd afterward. Mark also has met Chet Atkins and Wayne Newton, who seems to have replaced Bob Hope as chief military entertainer when Hope retired in his 90s.

“The big news is tomorrow,” Mark wrote on May 2. “The president will be gone by then. But I haven’t been in the continental U.S. since July 22, 2002.”

Mark plans to earn an officer’s commission and stay in the Navy.

May 13, 2003

Hail to the Chief:
Mark Strohl '99, on board the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, hears the President's speech on Iraq and gives us some comments.

Caps in the Air:
St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing at Moravian College graduates its first class.
Speech! Speech!:
A roster of speakers and honorary degree recipients at Baccalaureate, College commencement, Seminary Commencement.
Capital Gains:
Students in the Washington program are interns with government agencies.
Achievements of faculty, staff, students.
Alumni Weekend:
A preview of May 30-31.