Jacksonville, Fla. – Hundreds of sailors received a warm welcome home Saturday after more than half a year overseas.
The USS Thomas Hudner pulled back into Mayport after its very first deployment. More than 300 sailors spent seven months in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Among the tear-filled, joyous reunions, News4Jax captured a very special meeting between a father and son.
Daniela Sauter was three months pregnant when her husband, Lt. j.g. James Sauter, was deployed overseas. He missed most of her pregnancy and the birth of their first child, George.
“My gosh, it’s been very hard, mostly because I don’t have family here in this country, so the whole process of being pregnant was me being on my own,” Daniela said.
Their ONLY form of communication for more than half a year? Emails.
“There were some moments where you feel like you can’t, but you have to be strong,” Daniela said.
Strong enough to make it to Saturday’s special moment -- James sprinting off the ship to meet George for the first time.
“This is a special moment,” James said, fighting tears. “I’ve waited a long time to hold this one and now here it is.”
Now, their family of three feels complete.
“I can’t wait to take him home,” James said.
“It feels like we’re going to start something new together,” Daniela said.
Many other families were also eager to reunite Saturday.
The Wheat family welcomed home their hero: Demarcus Wheat.
“We’re just so happy to finally see him and have the kids have him home and hug him and tell him how much they love and missed him,” wife Ada Wheat said.
Demarcus said it was the best feeling.
“I’m just glad to be home and be back with my family,” he said.
In their most recent mission, sailors worked with the French Navy and performed several security exercises.
They were involved in counter-narcotic, and drug smuggling operations. They also aided in the recovery of weapons that were made to support violent extremist organizations such as ISIS.
The USS Thomas Hudner is one of three ships that is returning to Mayport over the next three days.