Soldiers' Voices

The Other Side Of The Story - Pilot Refutes SFTT Story

About a hundred emails arrived in my In-Box with a copy of Soldiers For The Truth's guest opinion by Ed Stanton

Ed is the pseudonym of a Naval Officer aboard the USS Lincoln and wasn't happy with the Tsunami relief efforts - mostly due to the arrogance and attitudes of the UN staffers.

...What really irritated me was a scene I witnessed in the Lincoln’s wardroom a few days ago. I went in for breakfast as I usually do, expecting to see the usual crowd of ship’s company officers in khakis and air wing aviators in flight suits, drinking coffee and exchanging rumors about when our ongoing humanitarian mission in Sumatra is going to end.

What I saw instead was 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.

They all carried cameras, sunglasses and fanny packs like tourists on their way to Disneyland. My warship had been transformed into a floating hotel for a bunch of trifling do-gooders overnight...

I just received an email from a Naval Aviator aboard the Lincoln who disputes Stanton's claims and wants you to hear the other side of the story.  Here are the words of Lieutenant Commander Jeff Vorce:

As a Navy helicopter pilot flying humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, I was startled and dismayed by the inaccuracies of Ed Stanton's editorial, "No Relief in Sight for the Lincoln."  While I can't comment on the actual individual who drafted the article (he chose to hide behind a pen name), his writing is indicative of a disgruntled officer who hasn't actually seen the true scope of the devastation ashore or the work that is being done by his shipmates to help.

The people of Indonesia genuinely appreciate our assistance.  There are homemade American flags that the hungry and injured have made and display in the makeshift landing zones where we drop off medical supplies, food, and water to prove it.  My heart swells with pride (and I choke up a little) every time I see hundreds of displaced persons cheer, salute, and flash a big smile or a thumbs-up when my crewmen are off-loading boxes marked with red, white, and blue stickers that proclaim, "Food from the American People."

The Indonesian government (rightly so) is in charge of the overall relief effort underway on the western coast of Sumatra.  Last time I checked, it is their country.  Simply put, we are here to aid them with their recovery.  We are merely one part of what could end up as the largest relief effort in history.  The resources and personnel of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group are working in concert with the people of Indonesia, other nations, militaries, and a host of non-governmental relief agencies including US AID, Red Cross & Red Crescent Society, WHO, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, and the WFP.

The civilians that have been transported by our helicopters and have been hosted aboard the carrier are not a "traveling circus" of aid workers or "trifling do-gooders."   On the contrary, these are professionals who have years of experience in mitigating human suffering and tragedy.  While there are many highly trained men and women deployed alongside me, there are few (if any) who have expertise in the prediction of malaria transmission vectors, the proper disposal of tens of thousands of human remains, creating a system to match orphaned children with distant relatives, reviving an entire economy, prioritizing bridges or roads to be re-built, or any of the other skills sets that are so critical to disaster relief.

I find it curious that Mr. Stanton complains about having to wait in line to get food behind men and women who are supporting the same mission as his brothers and sisters in arms.  He fails to mention that, in addition to a hot meal or two and a bed to sleep in, the carrier is providing planning space to aid in coordinating the operation, computer and communications assistance, and video teleconferencing services for lead international relief workers and organizations.  Comparable facilities in Sumatra have been completely destroyed or are without power. The key to the US military's withdrawal from this operation is a speedy turnover with international organizations that can provide the same services and support-the very reason that they were onboard the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

The description of an aircraft carrier as an "instrument of national policy" is accurate.  The belief that the offensive strike capability of the air wing she carries is the only way to project this policy is flawed. Here in Indonesia, such an assumption is a slap in the face to the sailors who volunteered to go ashore and load thousands of pounds of rice into helicopters each day in the tropical heat.  It fails to take into account the talent of the ship's engineering teams that were able to repair generators at the local hospital and restore electrical power.  It overlooks the heroism of the navy medical personnel that saved countless lives in the wake of the tsunami's devastation.  It doesn't begin to calculate the strategic value of clothing donations, a soccer ball tossed from a helicopter, or a handful of candy given to children who have lost everything they have.

With respect to the media, the only negative portrayal of Operation UNIFIED ASSISTANCE (the name given to the US military's regional response to the tsunami disaster) I have seen was Mr. Stanton's.  The Indonesian press has praised our work and questioned the paucity of relief assistance from other Islamic nations.  Military service members often complain that the media "doesn't get it right" and fails to cover all of the positive work we do; this time the media got it right and Mr. Stanton got it wrong.


LCDR Jeff Vorce, USN

If anyone from the media wants to contact Lieutenant Commander Vorce, I have his email address.

[Big thanks to Victoria for sending LCDR Vorce's eloquent rebuttal]