Carrier Air Wing 5 back at Atsugi
Air wing pilots and aviators with about 70 jets flew home to big hugs, tears of joy and hoots of cheer Thursday during the Carrier Air Wing 5 homecoming at Atsugi Naval Air Facility.
The air wing is from the USS Kitty Hawk, returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The air wing is called “America’s 911 air wing,” the only one forward-deployed — and the only one in the 7th Fleet.
“It feels good to be home,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Lind, one of the first to disembark from his F/A-18 with the VFA-195, the “Dambusters.” “It was pretty incredible out there,” he said.
Cmdr. Jeff Rocha, also from the “Dambusters,” saw his 10-year-old daughter Kelsey for the first time since she donated 16 inches of shiny hair to the “Locks for Love” charity.
This is the second return from war for the Rochas at Atsugi, wife Nancy said. They were stationed here after the Persian Gulf War.
“It’s kind of almost like déjà vu,” she said.
They planned a hearty evening Thursday: “We are going out to dinner,” she said. “He wants to go to Outback and eat a steak.”
The air wing squadrons returned in groups throughout the day. For each return, eager families waved flags, plugged their ears against the jet engine screams and pointed and waved as aircraft taxied in carrying loved ones gone since January.
“It’s terrific to be home,” said Capt. Joseph Aucoin, the air wing deputy commander.
He held 1-year-old Kristina in his arms.
“When I left she wasn’t walking. Now she’s walking,” he said happily.
Lt. Cmdr. Sean Cushing said he plans to play catch with 3-year-old Zach as soon as he gets home.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had my feet on dry land and seen my wife,” he said.
His wife, Julie, said the family plans to “get back to the swing of things” at home — until their Hawaiian vacation later this month.
“It’s just great to have him back;he’s our hero,” Carol Driscoll said about her husband, Capt. Pat Driscoll, air wing commander.
Carol said she’s looking forward to a healthy dose of normalcy in their lives. “Just to sit down and be a family again,” she said.
The Hornet, Tomcat, Viking and Prowler pilots flew in under a cloudless sky. The rest of the airwing returns Tuesday with the Kitty Hawk crew.
Thursday’s excitement carried with it a somber reminder.
Among the F/A-18s landing from VFA-195 was one marked with the name of Lt. Nathan “OJ” White, the fallen pilot who was shot down over Iraq on April 2.
The pilots and radio intercept operators spoke tersely about their time at war.
“It was a lot of time under way,” said Lt. Eric J. Anduze of the VF-154 Black Knights, adding that the flights and missions were “intense, physically and mentally. So it is good to be home.”