USS Mahan, scene of fatal shooting, deploys from Norfolk
Chief selectees from USS Mahan sing "Anchors Away" as they march to their pinning ceremony held at the end of the pier in Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 13, 2013 .
NORFOLK, Va. — By the time he got home that Tuesday morning in late March, Lt. j.g. Kaleo Kina's loved ones had heard about a shooting aboard his ship, the destroyer Mahan, at Norfolk Naval Station.
But they didn't know much about how things unfolded: how an intruder got through two security checkpoints, boarded the ship and disarmed the sailor on watch; and how a Navy police officer from the naval station ran to intervene and died a hero, jumping in front of a bullet to protect a fellow sailor. They also didn't know that as the force protection officer on board the Mahan, Kina was on the scene seconds after shots were fired and two men, including the civilian intruder, were dead.
Those and other details would come later. Instead, when he arrived home after that very long night, Kina just hugged his girlfriend and broke down in sobs.
"He didn't have much to say," Katherine Demick recalled. "He just collapsed in my arms."
After bearing that grief throughout the workup to deployment, dozens of Mahan sailors manned the rails Monday as the destroyer pulled away from Norfolk Naval Station.
The ship set sail on an expected five-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Gulf, where another Norfolk-based warship, the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, has been launching airstrikes on Iraqi militants since Friday. It's the first full military engagement in Iraq since U.S. forces pulled out in late 2011.
At the pier, loved ones and friends lined up to say goodbye.
"Normally, (when) you go on deployment, you don't fear for your safety," said Lt. Tyree Barnes, Kina's roommate from the naval academy. "But right now, it's something that you've got to think about at the front of your mind, not just the back of your mind."
A few feet away, former Marine John Moutray stared up at the ship as his girlfriend, Ensign Jeanette Zeeb, grinned back from the deck.
The two met last year, while Zeeb was an ROTC student in upstate New York and Moutray, a lance corporal fresh out of the Marines, was back home transitioning to civilian life.
Moutray couldn't hide the pride he felt, watching the woman he loves deploy for the first time. Yet after two tours in southern Afghanistan during the height of the war, the irony wasn't lost on the former warrior.
"It's kind of funny being on the other side," he said. "There's the same uncertainty about what's gonna happen when they are gone. But the pride is still the same - seeing her leave for the first deployment."
Zeeb joined the Mahan more recently, but Cmdr. Zoah Scheneman, the ship's commanding officer, said approximately 60 percent of the crew was aboard during the last deployment - a nine-month tour that ended in September. For them, it was a quick turnaround.
Scheneman said the crew has been through a lot but is well-prepared for its mission.
That March day is still embedded in the memories of Kina's loved ones. His sister, Keanaloha Covington, flew from Arizona to see him off. She remembered their mother calling her, crying.
"There's been a shooting on your brother's ship," their mother told her in a shaking voice. "I don't know much."
It was hours before Kina finally let folks know he was OK, through a post on his Facebook page.
That was behind them Monday. As the ship pulled out and headed to the Middle East, Demick, his girlfriend, contemplated what lay ahead.
"It's very nerve-wracking to know that he's going to that part, especially after what they've just gone through," she said. "But it's their duty. He just wants to be a part of saving the world."