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Kearsarge leaves Norfolk after storm gave crew extra days homeported

By MIKE HIXENBAUGH | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: October 6, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — This weekend's storm was a big hassle for thousands of people in Hampton Roads, but it delivered an unexpected blessing to Lt. Chris Krueger and his family.

Krueger was supposed to deploy Saturday aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, but with Hurricane Joaquin passing off the coast, the ship stayed in port a few extra days.

On Saturday, Krueger, 34, got to be home to celebrate his son's fourth birthday -- probably the first birthday the boy will remember when he's older. And this morning, just before shipping out on deployment, Krueger was able to kiss his daughter on her first birthday.

"It was a really nice surprise to get those days," the sailor's wife, Mari Krueger, said. "It turned out to be a great weekend. Totally unexpected."

And now, reality sets in.

Mari Krueger was among dozens of loved ones who gathered to watch the Kearsarge leave Norfolk Naval Station. The ship and two others in its amphibious ready group -- loaded with a total of some 4,000 sailors and Marines -- is heading to the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf for at least seven months.

It was a familiar scene for anyone who's ever attended a Navy departure. Older children cried as tugboats pushed the huge gray ship away from the pier. A few spouses cried, too. One was busy wrangling two small children, trying to at least keep them from running off the dock, while also straining to spot her sailor among those manning the rails of the ship.

Just before the Kearsarge shoved off, Mari Krueger spotted hers.

"Hey, there he is. There's Dad! Isaac, wave to Daddy."

The 4-year-old looked up and squinted.

"That's not Dad," the boy said.

"That is Dad -- he's wearing his whites, buddy."

The boy spotted him finally, then waved his little hand over his head.

"That is Dad!"

Earlier, her husband had told her he feared his children wouldn't remember him when he returned next year. Mari Krueger said she worries about that, too. It's a fear shared by many sailors and their loved ones -- a painful reality of life in the military.

But at least he's doing something important, Mari Krueger said. The Kearsarge and the two ships deploying with it -- the amphibious transport dock Arlington and the dock landing ship Oak Hill -- are steaming toward a region seemingly in a perpetual state of crisis, from Syria to Libya to Iraq. There's no telling what missions -- humanitarian or otherwise -- the ships might be tapped for.

"It's not like he's just going out to tool around the ocean," Mari Krueger said. "He's going to do what he joined the Navy to do. And it's important work."

Her children, she hopes, will understand someday.

———

©2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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The USS Kearsarge sails in the Red Sea on June 16, 2013. The Kearsarge departed Norfolk Naval Station on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, for a scheduled deployment.
CORBIN J. SHEA/U.S. NAVY

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