More than 300 sailors getting home in time for the holidays.
“As much fun as they had decorating the ship, it’s not home,” says Jessica Shaw.
The USS Hue City and helicopter squadron HSL 48 detachment 8 returned to Mayport Wednesday following a six month deployment. The crew served as an escort for the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Being gone for six months was a long stretch for some sailors on their first deployment, but they were supposed to be out longer.
Alejandro Zuniga told me when the crew found out they would be returning to Mayport Wednesday, rather than in March like originally intended, there was a lot of excitement.
“It was a race to get to the computer and get on Facebook and be like ‘Wow, we’re gunna be home, tell the kids I’m gunna be home for Christmas,” he says.
Mayport Spokesman Bill Austin says the crowd that greeted these sailors with a warm holiday welcome was one of the largest he had ever seen.
“It doesn’t get any better than that. Sailors reuniting with their families just before Christmas,” says Naval Station Mayport Spokesman Bill Austin.
For 13 sailors, the homecoming took a special significance- they each met a new baby in the family. One became a grandparent, one had twins, and the rest each met their newborns.
“My daughter’s waited for this day for a long time, for this baby to be held and seen by her husband,” Laurel Jones told me, while standing with several other family members and new mothers.
Erica Bradley was waiting to introduce her four month old to her father.
“There were a lot of complications with the pregnancy so we didn’t know she would be healthy, and he had to leave before she got here. So for him to be able to hold her and her to be here and healthy it just a blessing that I couldn’t imagine,” she says.
Thomas Traskey was happy about the change in deployment as well.
“Getting to be home for his first Christmas,” he says, of his son who he was holding.
He was the first sailor off the USS Hue City today, and honor he told me his wife won in a raffle. But despite all eyes fixed on the ship as he stepped off, he told me he only saw her.
One woman I spoke with, who was pointing out her husband to her two small kids as they watched the ship pull up to shore, says the homecoming is bittersweet. He husband was actually on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, but was able to come back to Jacksonville on the USS Hue City because that’s where his family is. Despite being home earlier than expected, he has to head back to Norfolk in just about 10 days, so she says they will get as much out of the holiday as they can.
Shaw told me, while she’s excited to be home, Navy runs in her blood.
“Even on the most frustrating day, I sit there, I go out on the weather decks and look and, you know, I can’t give this up,” she says.
She’s fourth generation Navy. She says her family is in Los Angeles, and she will be flying out soon after the holidays to surprise her sister for her birthday.