On that date George W. Bush, wearing a flight suit and crash helmet, via a S-3B Viking landed on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, which was returning from a nearly ten-month deployment in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The deployment was the longest of an aircraft carrier since the Vietnam War.
The aircraft which Bush is alleged to have piloted for part of the flight, landed while the carrier was underway about 30 miles (50 km) off the coast of San Diego, California. It was the first time a sitting president arrived on the deck of an aircraft carrier by plane. Once on board, Bush made a prime time address from the flight deck, surrounded by hundreds of sailors and backed by a banner reading "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED".
He then delivered a short speech, saying:
- "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
- After service in the Afghan—and Iraqi theaters of war—after 100,000 miles, on the longest carrier deployment in recent history, you are homeward bound."
The event was actually nothing more than a photo opportunity designed to benefit his political campaign; the banner was made by a private vendor at the request of the White House, and put up on the Abraham Lincoln's tower by the crew. The White House, after coming under mounting criticism, blamed the message on the sailors, saying they had created the banner, and it was several months before the White House admitted it had the banner made and offered it to the Abraham Lincoln.
As combat in Iraq continued and insurgent attacks rose, the banner came to be an embarrassment for Bush. In April 2004, Bush adviser Karl Rove told The Columbus Dispatch, "I wish the banner was not up there."
In addition to the banner, use of a jet rather than a helicopter was the subject of controversy. Although the original rationale offered up by the White House for using the jet was that Abraham Lincoln would be too far offshore for the usual helicopter arrival, the ship was well within range by the day of the event. It was in reality staged for political purposes; a jet landing was thought to be more dramatic.  Bush had originally wanted to land on the Lincoln in an F-18 Hornet, but the Secret Service objected, because agents could not accompany him in the two-seater fighter jet.