USS Mahan returns to Naval Station Norfolk after duty near Syria
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
NORFOLK, Va. - Etta Hall was watching the news back home in Paducah, Ky. last month when a familiar name came on the screen: the USS Mahan.
That wasn't just any ship. It was carrying the sailor she refers to as "my baby."
The Norfolk-based destroyer had moved into position off Syria as President Obama weighed a possible military strike to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using poison gas in that country's civil war.
Hall immediately lost contact with her son, Justin Pogue, an engineer, as the Navy clamped down on communications for security reasons.
"I went through two pairs of shoes pacing," she said, "and every TV in the house was on. You just worry and pray."
Hall's ordeal, along with dozens of other families, ended Friday as the Mahan arrived back at Naval Station Norfolk in a joyous homecoming. The commander and crew were relatively low key about being called to a world hot spot. The families provided plenty of excitement, yelling and waving signs as the ship approached the pier.
"That was the longest week of our life," said Chuck Rook, as he waited for his son, Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory Rook. "Once we got the news from the ombudsman that his homecoming was delayed, we hadn't even watched the news up to that point. And our friends said, I bet it has to do with Syria. We were glued to the TV since then."
The Mahan spent nearly nine months at sea, and the crew spent a lot of time on things other than Syria. The ship traveled more than 42,000 nautical miles, conducted 50 weapons exercises, 53 small boat operations and trained with naval forces from NATO countries. They made port visits in Italy, Cyprus, Israel, Greece and Spain.
Ten first class petty officers were selected for chief petty officers during the deployment. They were pinned in a ceremony shortly after the ship moored.
"Our sailors grew and developed," said Cmdr. Zoah Scheneman, who became the ship's commanding officer in May. "We grew and developed as a ship."
Spending time in Syria did not change the atmosphere onboard, he said. The crew remained calm and went about their business. He said he was just as proud of his crew for the more routine accomplishments at sea.
"This was a very large deployment with a brief exclamation point of excitement, but that doesn't take away from the overall work that sailors do, day in and day out," he said. "That's the stuff that doesn't get ten reporters out here, but that work is just as rewarding."
Meanwhile, Norfolk-based destroyers continue to stand watch as the Obama administration pursues a diplomatic solution. The guided-missile destroyers USS Barry, USS Stout, USS Ramage and USS Gravely remain in position. The Norfolk-based USS San Antonio, an amphibious ship carrying 300 Marines and extensive communications equipment, docked in the port of Haifa in northern Israel last week.
Hugh Lessig can be reached at 757-247-7821.