JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After seven months away from home, the USS Fort McHenry returned from deployment Thursday.
The ship, along with more than 300 sailors, arrived Thursday morning at Naval Station Mayport, where family and friends were waiting to welcome their loved ones home.
Sailor Shelby Nastase said her top priority after getting off the ship was food.
“I definitely want to go out to eat. I definitely miss American cuisine. Ship food is OK, but home food is better," Nastase said.
For Seaman Michael Mora, this is a second-time hug like no other. Mora was there for his son’s birth in April but had been separated ever since.
“When I just left, he was about this tiny. And he’s pretty much doubled in size right now. He looks like my twin! Oh my goodness,” Mora said.
Baby Lucas was one of 4 babies born during the 7-month deployment. The joy at his reunion was felt by people of all ages.
According to the Navy, the sailors worked in maritime security operations in both Europe and the Middle East.
During this mission, the ship carried a portion of the more than 4,500 sailors and Marines serving in the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
"It means a lot that I can show my little brothers what kind of person you can be and how the military makes you stronger and a much better person," Nastase said of serving on the USS Fort McHenry.
While deployed, the ARG participated in several military exercises and made port calls in the Baltics, Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East that deepened existing relationships with allies and partner nations.
Over the weekend, the crew shared their excitement on Facebook:
But the mission wasn’t all smooth sailing. The ship was quarantined at sea for over two months due to a viral infection similar to mumps.
Everyone has made a full recovery and received measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) booster vaccinations, according to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet headquartered in Bahrain.
"The crew was very strong and resilient. And it just made everybody stronger and more connected, really,” Mora said.
After being gone so long, the sailors said they are proud to have been able to serve and are glad to home.
“It means the world. And I’m just happy to be able to protect them abroad, and finally, get to hug them again one more time,” Mora said.
Most families said all they're thinking about now is spending quality time together after having missed so much.