JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The "Proud Warrior" Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron returned home to Naval Air Station Jacksonville Tuesday after an eight-month combat deployment to the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and Mediterranean Sea.
The HSM-72 squadron, attached to Carrier Air Wing 7 and led by Cmdr. Jason Sherman, consists of 296 personnel and 11 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters -- serving as part of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group.
"I could not be more proud of each and every one of our sailors," Sherman said. "I was humbled every single day these past eight months as I watched our sailors accomplish incredible things and do it with an uncanny level of pride, professionalism, grace and dignity. I feel extremely blessed to be a part of this squadron. What our sailors achieved is nothing short of spectacular."
Before the squadron arrived, Jim Ridlen, who is a father of two, was waiting with his family for his son, Joshua Ridlen, to come home from his first deployment.
Joshua Ridlen's girlfriend, Sarah Yeager, said he couldn't wait to see her boyfriend.
"(I'm going to) kiss him. Throw my arms around him," Yeager said.
As a Navy veteran who was deployed years ago, the homecoming was a moment Ridlen is familiar with.
The homecoming was a moment Jim Ridlen is familiar with as a Navy veteran who was deployed years ago.
"He (Joshua) is actually serving in the same region I served (in) back in '91. So it's kind of a big deal," Jim Ridlen said.
It was an emotional experience for the families as the squadron landed.
"It's hard not to be emotional because you see some of these kids that are 18-19 years old and they are working in some pretty tough conditions," Sherman said.
Joshua Ridlen even asked his girlfriend to marry him -- and she said yes.
Three fathers also met their newborn babies for the first time after returning home. It was a moment that families said they will always remember.