Dozens of kids made posters, chowed down on pizza, enjoyed a bouncy house and more Thursday night at Naval Base Kitsap - Bremerton on the eve of the John C. Stennis' return from an eight-month deployment.
The event also featured a special visit and some brief remarks from Admiral Cecil D. Haney, the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander.
"All I can say to you families, as we say in Hawaii is, mahalo, mahalo, mahalo. Thank you so much for your dedication and service and letting the sailors do what they've been doing. Not just for this eight-and-a-half-month deployment, but quite frankly the 17 and a half months of deployment over the last 22."
Adm. Haney then acknowledged that he doesn't know what it feels like to be deployed that much at "the pointed end of the spear, in a war zone, etc."
"But I can tell you this, they were one fired-up group of folks that I got to meet a couple of Saturdays ago operating off the coast of Hawaii," he added. "They couldn't do the remarkable work that they did, both in my area of responsibility in the western Pacific and in the Central Command area of operations, without the love and support of the people in this room, which I don't take for granted as the Pacific Fleet Commander."
Silverdale resident Laurie Lewis, whose husband, Nicholas, is a jet engine mechanic, was on base Thursday night with her children Jacob, 5, Abbie, 12, and Tyler, 14. Young Jacob's sign said, "Welcome Home Daddy" and he relished making it and putting a star sticker in the middle of the "D."
This will be Lewis' last deployment and after shore duty he will retire after 20 years in the Navy.
"He's been gone a long time and we're ready to have him home," Laurie said. "Whatever's next, we don't know yet."
She said the hardest part of a deployment is "juggling and taking responsibility for everything." Fortunately, she has a very strong support group that includes the Church of Latter Day Saints' Silverdale Third Ward and Exceptional Family Members, a military program that helps parents with special needs children.
But, it wasn't just kids and spouses that were anxiously awaiting the return of their loved ones.
Machinist's Mate 1st Class Mark Javaux's family drove 20 hours from Iowa to be in Bremerton to welcome him home. Javaux's mom and dad, John and Susan, and his sisters Beth and Karen were all on base Thursday night for the party.
Javaux has been in the Navy for 12 years, but this was his first deployment aboard the Stennis. Javaux's first deployment was out of Norfolk, Virginia, and his family made the trip to welcome him home then, too.
"Now we've been to both coasts to see him come in," his dad said. "We figure he's worth it."