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USS Ronald Reagan returns to San Diego

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Crew members of the USS Ronald Reagan were reunited their families and friends yesterday. The nuclear powered aircraft carrier and its five-thousand sailors returned to San Diego's North Island after a six-month deployment. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis was there.
As they wait for their ship to come in, anxious family members chant and wave signs - signs in every shape, color and size. One of the biggest signs reads Welcome Home Emily Ecker.' Eileen Ecker says she wanted her 20-year-old sailor daughter Emily to see her motherly pride.

Eileen: "When she was picked for the Reagan, she was fresh out of boot camp. Only two people out of her class of over a thousand went to the Reagan. And she has not let them down. Everyone thinks highly of her on her crew.

Eileen is a single mom. To be here in San Diego, she traveled a couple thousand miles from her home in central Canada. Like many family members, Eileen was on the docks early in the morning to get front-row seats. She kept in contact with her daughter by email. Officials say the warship received more than 800,000 email messages during the six-month deployment. Eileen made a scrapbook of all the pictures her daughter sent.

Eileen: "She goes can you believe there's a Disneyland in Hong Kong? I never even knew it. I've got pictures. Its great! She some great pictures from everywhere she's been."

During the past six months the Ronald Reagan was also stationed in Japan, Singapore, Australia, the Persian Gulf and Dubai. Dubai is where sailor David Altman got his first snowboarding lesson. His mom, Michelle Kraft, was surprised when she received her son's email.

Kraft: "Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates which is by Saudi Arabia. And they have an indoor ski resort. And they can go in and rent the equipment and everything and learn how to snowboard. So I have pictures of him learning how to do that."

The aircraft carrier's main mission was in the Persian Gulf where it supported the war in Iraq, including the launch of some three-thousand air missions from its flight deck. As the warship appears in San Diego Bay, the families onshore go wild.

Its an impressive sight -- standing 20 stories above water. It's more than 1,000 feet long, or the length of three football fields. The ship is powered by two nulcear reactors and can carry food and supplies for 90 days. Donna Murphy says she was never concerned with her son John's safety.

Murphy: "I just think it's a very capable ship. I don't know. I just haven't worried a lot about his safety. I just think he's in good hands.

As the massive ship get close to the docks, family members begin squinting to get a glimpse of their loved ones.

One family from Omaha Nebraska is 25 members strong. They drove three days to be here for sailor Clyde Sheard's arrival. Clyde's three sisters aren't sure what to expect.

Sisters: "Excited, nervous. Just cuz we haven't seen him in six months. You're afraid you're afraid that you're forget what he looks like, what his voice sounds like. He has no home cooking so I'm sure he's lost some weight."

Once the vessel is secured and the gangplanks set, thousands of sailors in white uniforms carrying stuffed duffle bags come streaming through the gates. Family members rush to embrace their loved ones.

Clyde Sheard makes his way down the plank and breaks into a wide grin once he sees his family. His fianc is the first to tackle him when he passes through the gates. Then he's mobbed by the rest of his family members.

Sheard: "Its something that we try to prepare ourselves for, but you get up there and you pull around and you see everybody. Its just, you get the shivers, you can do anything. It's been a long trip, and I'm so glad its over. And I'm glad I'm back here. I'm glad everyone is here, to be here with me."

This is was the Ronald Reagan's maiden deployment. After 600,000 pounds of laundry processed, 78 million kilowatt hours of electricity generated, and 13 million gallons of jet fuel pumped, commanders are calling it a mission accomplished. Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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