NORFOLK, Va. - Many families are feeling whole again for the first time in nine months.
The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) returned home to Naval Station Norfolk Sept. 17 following a nine-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation.
Both ships supported the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (IKECSG) throughout the deployment, as well as participated in multinational maritime exercises and operations, and ensured safety and security for maritime trade.
After two extensions, the sailors were reunited with their families on Friday at Naval Station Norfolk.
"With everything going on in the world, just to have them back here and know they're safe is huge," said Kimberly Davis.
While deployed, Cmdr. Thomas McCandless, commanding officer USS Mitscher, said, "We provided air defense for two strike groups -- the Eisenhower and the Ronald Reagan strike groups -- while they were providing over-watch for forces in Afghanistan during the withdrawal. We took it all in stride the cruise extremely motivated and I’m super happy to get them all home in one piece."
Both ships departed Norfolk for deployment Feb. 24 after successfully completing a six-week composite unit training exercise (COMPTUEX).
"What we accomplished during this extended deployment is truly extraordinary! I am in awe of their professionalism, grit and resilience, and could not be prouder of each and every one of these Sailors!” said Capt. Joe Baggett, commanding officer, USS Monterey. "Most of our time was spent in 5th Fleet. We were pretty much all over the place it was a busy deployment but totally totally rewarding."
It's almost as rewarding as meeting your firstborn. Our cameras were rolling on Friday as Albert Riley Jr. held his son, Albert Riley III, for the first time.
"I'm definitely shaking a little bit because this is my first time so I'm trying to be really careful," he said.
In between the hugs and kisses, you could feel a strong sense of service and sacrifice.
Lt. Greg Schwarga said, "The country has changed a lot since we left, you know, nine months ago but this still remains the greatest country in the world and I would do it every day. Things like this for people like her, older people, people who can’t fight back that’s what I do it for and I love the United States of America."
As Capt. Baggett hugged his kids, he smiled and said "you ask yourself every single day.. why you do what you do? And it's because of these two - these are my 'why.' I can't be the best commander that I can be for my sailors without their support."
Other elements of IKECSG returned from deployment in July and August.