USS James E. Williams, USS Mahan return to Naval Station Norfolk

Posted at 7:43 PM, Jan 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-11 07:14:20-05

Norfolk, Va. - Two local ships are safely back home.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Mahan and USS James E. Williams returned to Naval Station Norfolk Saturday.

Families had to bundle up against the bitter cold as they waited for their loved ones to pull into port, but they say the chilly wait was worth it.

It's been eight months since sailors aboard the USS James E. Williams left home.

A lot has happened in that time, including the arrival of some new family members.

Allison Gagnon's daughter was born while her husband was away.

"I've shown her pictures.  I tell her 'this is your daddy,'" said Gagnon.  Now, she no longer needs the pictures.  The two finally got to meet for the first time.

The time apart isn't easy on anyone, but it does make the first kisses and hugs back home that much sweeter.

"Eight months away! That's a long time.  That's like 240 some days gone, gone from family, so it's awesome being back," said Larry King, who got to have the traditional "first kiss" with is wife.

His wife says this deployment was harder than most.  "He missed Christmas, New Year's, he missed our birthdays, usually he doesn't miss all the holidays, so we're going to celebrate them now," she said.

The long time away wasn't the only challenge the crew faced.

Three officers in major leadership positions were removed from the USS James E. Williams in September.  According to a report, the leaders created a toxic atmosphere that contributed to a sailor taking her own life.

The new commanding officer Heidi Haskins says they've worked hard at being transparent since she took over.  "Our ability to communicate and complete our tasking and take care of our people is all right on track," said Commander Haskins.

The crew of the USS Mahan, which also returned home Saturday, went through some tough times of their own recently.  This was the first deployment for the destroyer since Master at Arms Second Class Mark Mayo was killed aboard the ship by a civilian truck driver in March.

The ship and its crew deployed in August and spent five months at sea.

"I can't speak enough about how phenomenal the crew is just day in, day out, 24 hours a day for 5 months.  Everything we asked them to do they performed," said Cmdr. Joe Matison, commanding officer of the USS Mahan.

He also credited the families they left behind for their support.

Those families anxiously waited for their sailors to return as they waited at the pier.

"I missed him a lot," said Veronica Fair whose son Tommy was on the Mahan, "this was his first time ever being away from his family in 24 years."

They say now they're looking forward to making up lost time.

"We are so grateful that he is home safe today!" Fair said.

While deployed, both ships conducted naval operations in support of U.S. national security interests.

The crews also volunteered for community relations projects, including school renovations and working with disabled children.