The first woman to command an aircraft carrier recounts a landmark deployment

Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, commanding officer of the USS Abraham Lincoln, speaks Nov. 11, 2021, during the USS Abraham Lincoln’s 32nd commissioning anniversary and Veterans Day commemoration on the mess decks . (Lake Fultz/US Navy)

(Tribune News Service) – As the USS Abraham Lincoln sailed for San Diego on Thursday, August 11, with two destroyers in tow and some 6,000 sailors and Marines aboard, it marked the completion of a US military first: Navy Captain Amy Bauernschmidt has now completed her first assignment as the first woman to command a US aircraft carrier.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier departed for a routine deployment to the Indo-Pacific region – usually stretching from the Philippines to the South China Sea – on January 3. Over the next eight months, the USS Abraham Lincoln and the other ships encountered everything. from the Chinese army to whale awareness training.

For the Marines, the exercise also included the first deployment of F-35C fighters aboard an aircraft carrier. The aircraft is widely regarded as an innovative weapon capable of both military and intelligence operations.

During a phone call aboard the Lincoln just a day before the strike group returned to Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, Bauernschmidt noted its accomplishment and spoke about the mission.

“I don’t think there’s a greater responsibility than taking charge of an aircraft carrier and being responsible for 6,000 Marines and sailors,” she said.

She described the crew – with an average age of 21.8 – as the backbone of the strike group’s success and said they should be given credit for their achievements. Bauernschmidt also paid tribute to the commanders aboard the other ships in the group and the support she got from them.

“I woke up every day with a smile on my face knowing I was driving this incredible warship,” she said.

“What (sailors and Marines) did matters,” Bauernschmidt added. “And their hard work made the difference.”

Bauernschmidt called the Navy Air Integration “seamless and seamless”.

Captain Amy Bauernschmidt has completed her first assignment as commanding officer of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the first woman chosen to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Captain Amy Bauernschmidt has completed her first assignment as commanding officer of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the first woman chosen to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. (US Navy)

Even when the F-35s were grounded (to check for possible problems with the pilots’ ejection seats), the strike group didn’t miss a beat. The Air Force first discovered the problem in April and by late July and August all military F-35s were grounded.

“We had the right people and the right parts,” she said. “There was no impact on the warship.”

The F-35s are known for their weapon systems and are heralded as the jet fighter of the future. Bauernschmidt considers this description to be apt.

“The situational awareness (the F-35s) were able to provide was amazing,” she said.

USS Abraham Lincoln was accompanied by destroyers USS Mobile Bay, USS Fitzgerald, USS Gridley, USS Sampson and USS Spruance. Mobile Bay and Spruance are based in San Diego, while Gridley and Samson returned to Washington state on Thursday. The Fitzgerald is expected to return to San Diego in the coming months, U.S. 3rd Fleet officials said.

The strike group – which was collectively commanded by Rear Admiral JT Anderson – covered over 65,000 nautical miles. During this time, he contributed to the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce on the seas. He also participated in international exercises Noble Fusion in February and Jungle Warfare in March. In both exercises, Sailors and Marines trained with the Japan Self-Defense Force. In late June and July, the strike group participated in Exercise Rim of the Pacific, a joint training enterprise that included 26 nations.

In the South China Sea – among the busiest waters in the world – the Lincoln Strike Group joined the Carl Vinson Aircraft Carrier Strike Group to demonstrate the US Indo-Pacific Command’s ability to provide a powerful force maritime. Together, these ships carried 14,000 sailors and Marines.

While near China, in January, February and March, the ships were frequently followed by Chinese warships, Bauernschmidt said.

While the tailing is not unusual, there have been no reports of threats or fears of military escalation, the contact took place in a year when tensions between China and the United States are relatively high. It is unclear how far the Chinese ships were from US military vessels.

Bauernschmidt described the interaction with the Chinese as “safe and professional”, adding that “most of the time they followed our ship like they followed any ship operating in this area”. She said some of the strike group’s planes had also had interactions with Chinese planes, but they “remained safe and professional whenever we interacted with them.”

The mission, she added, “demonstrated to the countries of the region that we support them and their international rights.” The crew “has directly contributed to the preservation of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. What they have done matters, and their hard work has made a difference in the region and for our nation.

Sailors and Marines line the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) as it deploys from San Diego Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Sailors and Marines line the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) as it deploys from San Diego on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (KC Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Although this was her first command aboard the carrier, Bauernschmidt said she didn’t spend much time posing for photos and kept the deployment “all business.”

She called the future of women in the navy “bright” and added that the navy is already ahead of other service branches in bringing women into combat and command roles.

The mission also included training that focused more on protecting animals and the environment than the military.

While the ships were off Hawaii and Southern California, sailors under Bauernschmidt’s command took part in an international exercise to raise awareness about the protection of marine mammals.

The waters where they sailed are home to many species of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life. Last year, four whales in the area were struck by US and Australian military vessels. And, in June, Navy officials have asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for some wiggle room in a deal they reached on training in the Pacific Ocean, saying it would be difficult to guarantee Navy ships won’t strike another whale before the expiry of the agreement at the end of 2025.

Two whales of unknown species were struck and killed by Navy ships last June and July. And in May 2021, two fin whales, determined to be likely mother and calf, were struck and killed by a visiting Australian Navy destroyer. The ship sailed into San Diego Bay with the whales clinging to its bow and a few days later one ran aground at Bolsa Chica Beach.

Under new protocols enacted after the whales died, the Navy further trained its sailors to recognize the presence of marine animals and avoid them.

“We have environmental considerations in everything we do,” Bauernschmidt said. “We have several lookouts and we record all the marine mammals we see.”

Bauernschmidt called the overall mission a success. She said that despite growing tensions over China and its interaction with Taiwan, she would have no worries about returning to the region.

“If I was there right now, I wouldn’t have any more worries than before,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of the strike group, Rear Admiral Anderson said the deployment underscores the importance of the United States’ relationship with its allies.

“Across the Indo-Pacific, it’s clear how important our relationships are with our allies and partners and how impactful every sailor and marine in the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group has been since we left in January. “, did he declare.

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