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Sailors, families react to canceled Truman deployment

NORFOLK -- Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman were making final preparations for deployment Wednesday when a breaking news alert spread through the ship.

Local news outlets were reporting that defense officials had canceled their deployment, set to begin in less than 48 hours.

Master Chief Petty Officer Ed Van Vleet, the combat systems maintenance manager aboard the Truman, called his wife and asked whether she had heard anything. The official word came a few minutes later.

"At first, my honest reaction was, 'Yeah, they're kidding,'?" Melissa Van Vleet said. "And once I realized it was for real, of course I was excited that my husband would be staying. But at the same time, you've already prepared yourself mentally to get ready for this. It's just a lot to take in."

The Truman returned Sunday from a three-week training exercise and was to leave Friday for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.

The sudden change, one result of the budget squeeze in Washington, directly affects some 5,000 sailors and their families. A number of spouses had already flown back to their hometowns to wait out the deployment. Some sailors without family in town had put their cars up on blocks or put their belongings into storage.

The announcement was a relief for married sailors with young children or new babies on the way. But for more seasoned military families, like the Van Vleets, it means a smaller paycheck and less money to pay down debts.

"Don't get me wrong, there are lots of things about this that makes us happy," said Melissa Van Vleet, who also served in the Navy. "Our son is a senior, and so now my husband might not have to miss his graduation. That's wonderful."

It's another big change for the crew, which had been slated to deploy midway through 2013. But mechanical problems with the West Coast-based Nimitz delayed that carrier's deployment and forced a series of scheduling changes.

The Navy announced last fall that the Truman would leave earlier than planned -- forcing the ship and its air wing to speed up training in order to be ready. Now the ship might not deploy for another year.

That was welcome news to Galen Tribble, whose son checked onto the Truman on Tuesday to join a Jacksonville, Fla.-based helicopter squadron. The young seaman, a newlywed, had just finished his post-boot-camp training and hadn't envisioned deploying so soon.

"It was like a punch to the stomach," Tribble said from his home in Georgia. "It'll be a relief for him to be off for a while."

Not everyone was happy.

The carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the Persian Gulf for six months but was brought home in December to have its flight deck resurfaced. Defense officials said the Eisenhower would return to the gulf as planned later this month, while the Truman will remain on standby.

The decision caused outrage among some Eisenhower spouses, who felt it was the Truman's turn to deploy. The tension spilled out in angry posts on Facebook and other social media sites.

A Navy spokesman said sending the Eisenhower back on a shorter deployment and keeping the Truman at the ready "gives us a larger window of overall carrier readiness."

"This was about strategy, not picking favorites," the spokesman said.

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