to the Chief
Moravian alum witnesses history
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
controls of his aircraft, which you can see on its final approach in the
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
Mark already was aboard when the carrier
was assigned to support Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
and Operation Southern Watch
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.
“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
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
“The president ate in the mess decks before giving his speech,” Mark
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
Though he missed an actual presidential handshake,
Mark has met General Tommy Franks, commander of allied
when Franks attended a USO show, sang a duet with Neal McCoy,
and worked the crowd afterward. Mark also has met Chet Atkins
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.