Sailors catch up with new additions
BETHESDA, Md. — Going from sea duty to diaper duty, Petty Officer 3rd Class David Cargo said he’s got a lot to learn about the new job in store for him.
Wednesday, when Cargo, 25, stepped off the bus that ferried him home on the final leg of a voyage from the Persian Gulf to Bethesda, Md., he was greeted by two people he’d never met before.
“Oh my God, they’re beautiful,” he said as his fiancée, Felicia Plunkett, handed him 2-month-old Xavier while she held his twin, Elisah. “This is a beautiful dream come true. They’re a gift from God.”
In January, Cargo, a cook in the Navy for five years, halfheartedly left his home and pregnant fiancée to head out on the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
“I’d been there for every appointment, for the morning sickness and for the cravings of cheese sticks and chicken tenders. Then, at the 11th hour, I missed out on the most important part of all,” Cargo said.
But Wednesday, as he watched Xavier sleep in his arms amid the hubbub of homecoming cheers, he understood why.
“It’s a tough job, but it has to be done, done to ensure that my sons can walk and be free.”
About 480 of the ship’s staffers arrived home Wednesday after treating more than 600 patients aboard the floating hospital, which will remain in the Arabian Gulf with a staff of about 600 to continue caring for the remaining 100 inpatients, of which all but six are Iraqi civilians and enemy prisoners of war injured in the recent warring.
Remaining onboard are 40 physicians, 90 nurses and more than 300 hospital corpsmen — not to mention the support and supply staff.
But the Niemann children’s father, Lt. Cmdr. Shawn Niemann, won’t be one of those staying behind.
The four youngsters, ages 6, 7, 9 and 10, gathered just before noon at the National Naval Medical Center to greet their dad when he got off the bus that carried the homecoming group from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
But dad wasn’t on the first set of buses — and it would be at least another two hours before they got to see him.
“It’s going to be boring, but it’s worth the wait,” said Nate Niemann, the eldest.
Tabitha Niemann, the youngest, said she misses one important project with dad: catching ladybugs.
Mom Kristin Niemann has been keeping busy in her husband’s 56-day absence. She sold their Germantown, Md., house and bought another in Charleston, S.C., for when the Navy family moves in June.
“It’s been hectic and hard and tiring, but it’s been easier than I thought because [we had access] to e-mail,” she said.
More than 590 surgeries took place on the high-tech, 1,000-bed floating hospital, some of then attended by Navy Hospital Nurse Rashonda Alexander.
“Oh, I saw a lot, a whole lot,” she said. “Gunshot wounds, burns, you name it. Some were our guys, and some were Iraqis, but they all got the same treatment. A patient is a patient,” said the 23-year-old operating room technician, who has been in the Navy for four years.
But that was all behind her as the young mother focused on a new sight — her 6-month-old son Jaylin Pitts, whom she had not seen in two months.
“He’s so big — and he bounces,” the delighted mother marveled. “He didn’t use to bounce when I left.”
Her mother, Tanya Watson, who had cared for the infant in his mother’s absence, said she was “overwhelmed and overjoyed” by her daughter’s homecoming.
“This is where she belongs, where she needs to be,” Watson said, smiling. “It’s a grandmother’s job to spoil him and make him impossible. It’s [a mother’s] job to raise him. And mamma’s home!”