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Petty Officer 3rd Class Earnest Harris, 21, a machinist's mate from Littleton, N.C., speeds up the generator in the No. 4 main machinery room on the USS Kitty Hawk Saturday evening.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Earnest Harris, 21, a machinist's mate from Littleton, N.C., speeds up the generator in the No. 4 main machinery room on the USS Kitty Hawk Saturday evening. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

TOKYO — It doesn’t matter when, as long as it’s soon.

As news of the USS Kitty Hawk’s impending departure from the Persian Gulf spread across its home port of Yokosuka Naval Base this weekend, excited families and friends began making plans for the crew’s raucous welcome home.

“It’s definitely sooner than we thought, so we’re extremely excited” said Tanya Astorga, whose husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Cesar Astorga, has been an aviation electrician on board almost four years.

“We’ve been through so many deployments before, and this one was actually shorter than we thought it would be. I know my boys are really excited.”

The Kitty Hawk and several ships from its battle group set out Jan. 20 for what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom. On Sunday, the ship’s captain made the announcement over the intercom system, drawing a chorus of cheers.

The USS Cowpens and USS John S. McCain also have orders to return to Yokosuka. The return trip could take anywhere from two weeks to more than a month, officials have said.

For families in Japan, it can’t be soon enough.

“This is the first time he’s gone out, so it’s been really hard for me. Especially since they were in a war,” said Jennifer Astor, whose husband, Jake, serves on the Kitty Hawk.

“I’m going to spend the next however-many weeks planning the welcome-home party.”

Spouses like Astorga, facing a change of station move without her husband’s help, are particularly happy. The Astorgas are transferring to Hawaii.

The news of the Kitty Hawk’s impending return spread in classic Navy-base fashion. As media reports hinted two carrier groups could soon be on their way home, excited Kitty Hawk spouses spread the word via e-mails, phone calls and backyard chats.

By Monday morning, most families had heard the news, though military officials were hesitant to confirm it.

Yokosuka Navy officials said they have not planned the homecoming party yet, but it would surely be an event. After returning from recent routine deployments, the ship has been greeted by purposefully understated welcomes and even Japanese protesters outside the gate.

The news also was welcomed at Atsugi Naval Air Facility, where the carrier’s air wing is stationed.

Tina-Marie Pike heard the carrier might return in an e-mail from her husband, Presedencio Pike, an ordnanceman on the ship. But she thought it was just a rumor until reading about the return Monday morning.

“I am so excited,” Pike said. “I was like ‘I can’t believe they’re really coming home.’”

Pike said she’ll plan a special dinner out for her husband when he returns.

Air wing leaders plan to hold a welcome-home ceremony on the base after the wing returns.

Navy officials also confirmed the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is on its way home to Everett, Wash.

The Lincoln was relieved by the USS Nimitz. The Lincoln and its seven-ship battle group have been at sea nearly nine months, longer than any U.S. carrier group now on duty.


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