THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, EVERETT, Wash. — The USS Abraham Lincoln will leave on deployment in mid-October, not early next year as the Navy had previously planned.
The Everett-based aircraft carrier was last deployed for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spending 290 days at sea.
The Nimitz-class carrier, which has a crew of about 5,000 when its air wing is on board, returned to Everett in May 2003, shortly after President Bush swooped in on an S-3B Viking jet and declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.
Before Saturday's surprise announcement, Navy officials had repeatedly said the Lincoln would leave early in 2005.
“Their schedule changed unexpectedly,” Navy Lt. Kim Marks, a spokeswoman for the Third Fleet in San Diego, told The (Everett) Herald. “The ship just found out.”
The Navy said the carrier would deploy to the western Pacific, but Marks said she could not say whether it would be returning to the Persian Gulf and the war in Iraq.
The Lincoln has been at sea in recent weeks for pre-deployment training. It's been a rare sight in Everett since its return last year.
The carrier spent about 11 months in the Bremerton shipyard for $280 million in repairs, and has been in and out of Naval Station Everett for training since early June.
The Navy said it would announce later which ships will accompany the Lincoln on its deployment.
A Lincoln spokesman previously reported that the Everett-based guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup had joined the Lincoln's strike group.
The Lincoln will also get a new air wing. Carrier Air Wing Two will embark on the Lincoln during its next deployment. Carrier Air Wing 14 deployed with it last time.
The Lincoln's nearly nine months at sea ended up being one the longest deployments of a nuclear-powered carrier since Vietnam.
More than 1,600 sorties were flown from the carrier while it supported the Iraq war. Its battle group fired 116 Tomahawk missiles. No aircraft or Navy personnel were lost.
Images of the Lincoln and Bush standing beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner have aired frequently in recent weeks as the 2004 presidential campaign has heated up. The banner has been criticized as the fighting in Iraq continues and the U.S. death toll approaches 1,000.