The Associated Press May 28, 2003
Carrier fliers return home from Iraq
By Sonja Barisic
Mary Kissam knelt next to pigtailed 3-year-old Brennan Hudson and pointed at the 10 F-14 Tomcats flying in formation overhead Wednesday.
"Look up in the sky, sweetie," Kissam said to Brennan, her fiance's daughter. "That's your dad."
A few minutes later, the planes had landed at Oceana Naval Air Station and several hundred people rushed forward to welcome 20 aviators home from the Iraq war and a five-month deployment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
"It's so good to be back - and back safe," Lt. Cmdr. Marc Hudson, a pilot, said after he hugged Brennan, Kissam and his 11-year-old son, Blake.
The "Black Lions" of Fighter Squadron 213 were followed home by a total of 23 single-seat F/A-18 Hornets from the "Golden Warriors" of Strike Fighter Squadron 87 and the "Valions" of Strike Fighter Squadron 15. An additional Hornet was unable to make the trip.
Lt. Wade Blizzard, an F-14 radar intercept officer, held his 7-month-old son, Austin, and remarked that the boy had gained several pounds and inches while he was gone.
"When I left he was just a little 10-week-old and couldn't do anything," Blizzard said. "Now he's moving. I came back just at the right time."
Lt. Cmdr. Dave Koss of the "Golden Warriors" said he was pleased to see hundreds of people waving American flags as his squadron approached Oceana.
"It's what we do this for - the going away from family, the fighting for America and the coming back to our families," Koss said as he was surrounded by family members who came up from Jacksonville, Fla., to greet him.
Koss also received a hearty handshake and a "Welcome home" from Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, who was there to greet all the returning warriors.
The homecoming is "like my wedding day and Christmas, all mixed up as one," said Claire Tankersley, the wife of F-14 pilot Lt. Cmdr. Mark Tankersley.
Earlier Wednesday, three E-2C Hawkeye radar planes carrying 15 people from the "Bear Aces" of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124 returned to Norfolk Naval Station. A fourth Hawkeye remained on the Roosevelt because it needs repairs, the Navy said.
Other air squadrons from the Roosevelt returned to Ft. Worth, Texas; Whidbey Island, Wash.; and Jacksonville, Fla.
The homecomings for Carrier Air Wing Eight began Tuesday, when about 40 people arrived at Norfolk Naval Station aboard two C-2A Greyhound transport aircraft from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40.
The ships of the Roosevelt strike group left Norfolk on Jan. 6 for training exercises in the Caribbean, then went directly to the Middle East to support the war in Iraq. Roosevelt aircraft flew more than 6,500 sorties, including 1,703 in combat, and dropped more than 1 million pounds of bombs, according to Navy statistics.
The Norfolk-based Roosevelt and three ships will return to Norfolk on Thursday, bringing home 6,000 sailors and Marines. Four other ships in the strike return are to return in July.
Also Thursday will be the homecoming for the USS Nassau amphibious ready group. The amphibious assault ship Nassau and amphibious transport dock USS Austin will return to Norfolk, while the dock landing ship USS Tortuga will return to Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach.
Last week, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and its strike group returned to Norfolk in the first large Navy homecoming on the East Coast since the war in Iraq ended.
On the Net:
GlobalSecurity.org site with information about Carrier Air Wing Eight:
Oceana Naval Air Station: http://www.nasoceana.navy.mil/
Norfolk Naval Station: http://www.navstanorva.navy.mil/
GRAPHIC: AP Photos
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press