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Home to America's Embrace. (War & Readiness).

Being away from friends and family for a six-month cruise is never easy, but it rests at the core of the sacrifices Sailors have to make to serve our country and protect our national interests.

Imagine how much more difficult it was for the Sailors aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65), who were on their way home, to be told that their deployment had been extended because terrorists attacked the United States. It was a course change all hands on the "Big E" readily made, answering their nation's call to arms.

After more than 650 successful sorties flown and having traveled more than 62,000 nautical miles, the Enterprise crew did finally head for home after an extra month of intense activity in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The day before the carrier was to pull into its homeport of Norfolk, Electronics Technician 3rd Class (SW/AW) Derrick Moore waited impatiently to meet his newborn daughter, Shade. "Enterprise's crew was temporarily stunned when they heard about the Sept. 11 attacks," he recalled.

"Our first six months went pretty smooth. We hit a lot of ports, and were on our way to a liberty port in South Africa when the attack happened," he said. "I thought it was a movie. I just couldn't believe it."

Despite the initial shock, most of Enterprise's Sailors agreed that a calm resolve came over the ship as they focused on the mission at hand.

Aviation Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Jon Clark said he was really impressed with his shipmates. "They were more patriotic and eager to do the job. There was a lot less griping, and it seemed we had a sense of purpose to what we were doing." He added, "When we recovered the jets, and they didn't have the bombs on them anymore, it really sunk in that we were out here defending our country."

Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 3rd Class Amber Bobbitt, who was on her first cruise, said she never realized just how close the crew had become. "It was amazing, seeing this many people work together to get the mission accomplished," she said. "The attacks made us all stronger. We were scared, not knowing what was going to happen, but our leadership did an excellent job keeping us informed."

Although these Sailors were busy on the frontlines of war doing a dangerous job, often in the back of their minds they were more concerned with what their families were going through back home. Moore said, "My biggest fear was for my wife and three kids in Norfolk. We kept hearing that there were threats of more attacks." Steaming home, he said he just couldn't wait to see them on the pier.

Clark agreed, saying, "Here on the ship, we felt safe. I think we worried more about our families being in jeopardy."

Even with all of the excitement Enterprise had during the cruise, nothing compared to the energy level running through the ship the day before they pulled back into Norfolk.

Enterprise took center stage the day before their homecoming on television sets across the country, as Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson hosted their show, Good Morning America (GMA), from the hangar bay. GMA broadcast live from sea, bringing America's greetings to "Big E" Sailors, including an onboard interview with Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England.

"Seeing them dedicate their entire show to Enterprise coming home really makes you feel good," said Moore. "It was nice to see SECNAV come out to the ship as well. It shows just how much he cares about us.

After the bright lights and TV cameras were gone, and the sun settled lower on the horizon, Sailors began moving with an obvious sense of urgency. While some were busy crating up equipment for off-load or scrubbing down the flight deck, others were running around doing last minute clean up, wanting to show their ship in the best light possible.

Those who weren't busy getting the ship ready found it hard to go to sleep anyway. "I'm way too exited to sleep," said Bobbitt. "My family is going to be waiting on the pier."

Moore said that thinking about meeting his new daughter for the first time was going to keep him up all night. "I saw my first two children be born, but I wasn't even able to be home for much of this pregnancy. I haven't been able to get much sleep the whole week." He added, "I'm really looking forward to the holidays. This year, Thanksgiving is going to mean a whole lot more to me than it did in the past."

Those who suffered from "channel fever" found plenty of activities to keep them occupied. Some sat in the galley, playing cards or dominoes. Many joined the big bingo game, where the top prize was $1,500, and some relaxed in the hangar bay, watching as the cruise video replayed memories from their last seven months together. Still others, like Dentalman Allen Mann, volunteered to spend part of their last evening on board handing out roses for crewmembers to give their loved ones the following day.

The next morning, the crew donned their dress blues, and soon thousands of Sailors manned the rails, waving American flags and holding streamers at the ready, as the ship eased into her berth at Naval Station Norfolk.

As the announcement, "Moored, shift colors!" was made, cheers roared from Enterprise, only to be drowned out by the thunderous yells coming from the pier. The cheers only got louder, as one family member after another got the first glimpse of their Sailors whose service to the country had made them so proud.

Enterprise was home - with a sense of purpose and patriotism not seen in many years - and America was there, waiting with open arms to greet her returning warriors.

Strawser is a photojournalist assigned to All Hands.
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Title Annotation:USS Enterprise returns to homeport of Norfolk, VA
Author:Strawser, Craig
Publication:All Hands
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:980
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