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Sac's back, Vinson due home Wednesday

The USS Sacramento received a festive welcome home from its six-month deployment to the Arabian Sea on Monday, Jan. 21, at Naval Station Bremerton.

Overcast skies and a blustery north wind put the wind chill factor in the teens, but that was the least of concerns for Sacramento families, Navy and civic leaders who turned out to greet the ship at the installation’s Pier Bravo.

Sacramento and the rest of the Carl Vinson Battle Group was deployed to the Arabian Sea in July 2001. The ships soon found themselves in the forefront of the war against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The Vinson is due to return to Bremerton at about 1 p.m. today, Jan. 21.

Debora Meade, whose husband is the Sacramento’s first lieutenant, has endured 10 deployments during her husband’s Navy career. But she said this particular separation went by quickly.

“I think ... having e-mail gives you that every-day or every-other-day contact that didn’t happen 10 years ago,” Meade said. “Plus me being busy and things were always going on or happening because of the events of the world ... it just went by quickly.”

In contrast to Meade, Lapreica Harper was eagerly awaiting her fiancé’s return from their first deployment. In the stroller in front of her was their six-month-old daughter, Jaila.

Jaila was one of six babies born to Sacramento families during the deployment.

“She was born two days after he left on deployment and that’s the hardest part,” Harper said, “him not being home for her birth and missing out on her major firsts and me not being able to hold him and talk to him.”

She worried about her fiancé throughout the deployment.

“During the whole thing, the one thing that kept going through my head was, ‘I hope I don’t have to answer to my child why her dad never came home,’” Harper said.

But shortly after 11 a.m., Jaila got to meet her dad for the first time. He was one of the first new fathers to come down the ship’s brow.

“She’s beautiful man. She looks more like her mom than me, but hey, that’s a good thing and this is just great.”

Since the beginning of the war on terrorism in October, media reports have touted aircraft attacks against targets in Afghanistan by airplanes from the Vinson. But Tacoma resident John Northman, who served on the Sacramento more than 25 years ago, pointed out that the strikes would not have taken place without the Sacramento’s logistical support.

“Sacramento looks to be in pretty darn good shape, especially coming from the tempo of operations she has been in,” Northman said.

Also on hand to welcome the ship and its crew were regional Navy surface commander Rear Adm. Vinson Smith and Rep. Norm Dicks, D-6th District, who spoke to the crew via the shipyard’s public address system as the 53,000-ton ship was nudged toward the pier.

“Though I am quite sure that the crew would prefer to dispense with the formalities this morning and to come charging down the gangplank to reunite with family and friends after a full six months of operations,” Dicks said, “I believe it’s important to express a brief word of thanks on behalf of a grateful nation to the officers and crew of this great ship. I’m extremely proud of the contributions that the USS Sacramento made during Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Since Sacramento left in July 2001, it spent a total of 114 days at sea without a port visit. It was at sea replenishing battle and amphibious ready groups during the Thanksgiving and New Year holidays, but spent Christmas enjoying a port visit to Singapore.

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