Ships, lives change in 4 months for Navy crew
The (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot
The four months they were gone was a time of change.
The crew that deployed on the Ashland became the crew of the Tortuga in a "hull swap," delivering one ship to Japan and bringing the other ship home.
A Navy corpsman who was a new mother when her husband deployed made the decision to end her military career. As soon as her husband gets back from deployment, she's putting in her notice.
And four women from different towns, who'd never met, became such fast friends that their sons aboard the dock landing ship just shook their heads in astonishment.
Pulling up to the pier at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek on Tuesday, the crew of the Tortuga had a lot to catch up on.
It was only four months, said Pam Dolen, "but it was the longest four months of my life."
Dolen drove down from her home in Powhatan to welcome her son John, a seaman apprentice who works in the engine room. She "met" Nicole Ward of South Dakota, Barbara Mascia of Richmond and Nannette Perez-Harris of Georgia on the Navy for Moms Facebook page after their sons deployed.
Their sons are all young sailors who work in the engineering department.
"We literally have become - the four families - so close," said Mascia, whose son Christopher, a seaman apprentice, also works in the engine room. "We talk every day."
The women connected after Mascia posted pictures of the Ashland deploying in late June to the Facebook page. Ward, who was unable to make it from South Dakota, saw the pictures and got in touch.
"We just all clicked," Ward said. "Our sons thought it was so weird we were talking. But they have a brotherhood on that ship, and us Navy moms, we need a sisterhood."
The crew left aboard the Ashland, which they had seen through a midlife upgrade that modernized it with automated systems and consoles.
They stopped in San Diego and Hawaii on the way to Japan, where the Tortuga had been based.
The swap involved switching berths, taking inventories and doing walkthroughs before the ships were traded. Each crew did five days of sea trials with their new ships.
"We gave (the crew in) Japan a modernized ship," said Cmdr. Brett Hershman, now skipper of the Tortuga. "What we then got was what they call a 'legacy' ship."
On Sept. 9, the Little Creek-based crew set sail for home aboard the Tortuga.
Describing the crew as the "soul" of a ship, Hershman said there was an emotional element to the swap.
"The Tortuga and the Ashland are different ships now," Hershman said. "It's a new chapter in each ship's life."
Hospital corpsman Melanie Herbert saw the deployment as the launch of a new chapter in her life as well. The first-time mother of a now 8-month-old spent the time her husband was away determining that she could no longer pursue her Navy career.
"All the stuff I experienced with her while he's been away," she said, "I just realized, I am getting out."
"I think it's best for our family," she said. "I need some sense of stability."
Lining the pier as the ship pulled in, the moms shouted their sons last names: "OK, one, two three," prompted Ward, and all four shouted: "Ward."
"One, two, three -- Mascia," they continued. "One, two, three -- Dolen. One, two three -- Harris."
"Woo-hooo!" Mascia added.