NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group arrived back at Naval Station Norfolk Friday to end a nine-month deployment.
While most attention focused on the flagship carrier, the first to get home were the "small boys," the affectionate term for the escort cruisers and destroyers whose crews play important roles in their own right.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Jacinto along with the guided-missile destroyers USS Bulkeley and USS Mason arrived before 9 a.m. to a chilly but cheering crowd.
"It his first deployment and it was a little scary," said Charmaine Roberts, who waited for her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Roberts. "but he is passionate about it."
Aircraft carriers like the USS Harry S. Truman, which docked at Norfolk later in the morning, are still the signature ships for the Navy to project its forces around the globe.
But carrier escorts have been in the limelight in recent months with the turmoil in Ukraine.
In March, the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun, sailed into the Black Sea for naval exercises, but the move attracted worldwide attention because of the political crisis in Crimea.
Truxtun is based in Norfolk and part of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group.
More recently, the USS Donald Cook went into the Black Sea and was buzzed by a Russian fighter in a series of provacative fly-bys. The Donald Cook had been based in Norfolk, but moved to Spain in January.
To families who waited on the dock, the size or type of ship didn't matter. They were glad the crew was home.
That included Alyssa Dutschke, who dropped $125 on raffle tickets to win the coveted "first kiss" and waited on the windswept dock for her husband Petty Officer 2nd Class Todd Dutschke.
This was his second deployment, and she is well aware that smaller ships don't always get the attention of the mighty carriers.
"People ask me what ship he is on," she said. "I say he's with the Truman Strike Group. You're not going to know his ship."