MAYPORT, Fla. – On Sunday morning, 330 sailors returned to Naval Station Mayport Sunday when the USS Jason Dunham docked following a nearly seven-month-long deployment.
For seamen Kennedi Bogan-Williams and Steven Leister, the homecoming was a new experience because it was their first deployment.
“It was hard because this is the longest I’ve been away from my family,” Bogan-Williams said, who is from Southern California. “So, it was hard, but it was definitely worth it. I liked the experience, and I would do it again.”
“There were a lot of highs and lows,” said Leister, who is from northern New Jersey. “Definitely more lows than highs at some points, but it was definitely worth it.”
Bogan-Williams’ family flew in from California to welcome her back to the states.
“We’ve been praying for her safety the entire trip,” said Demetria Vaughn, one of Bogan-Williams’ aunts. “For it to come full circle for us, we’re just very proud of her.”
The moment Leister said goodbye to family at an airport on Dec. 1 was one of the hardest things for everyone.
“With everything going on in the world, you worry about where he is. Is he safe? Is he eating? Is he drinking? Is he getting sleep?,” said Kelli Tromans, Leister’s mother.
“I’m glad that is over,” said Leister’s girlfriend Savannah Smith. “I’m just excited to give him a hug.”
“I just missed the everyday conversations,” said Caitlyn Leister, who is Steven’s older sister. “We are like each other’s rocks.”
The USS Jason Dunham returned from several missions in the Middle East and Europe.
Sailors conducted security and stability exercises. They traveled more than 48,000 nautical miles and visited 10 foreign ports in eight different countries along the way.
Commanding officer Michael Kiser says one of the most memorable moments was visiting Rhodes, Greece.
“It is a very ancient and historic city, and U.S. Navy ships do not get an opportunity to pull in there very much,” Kiser said. “Just a confluence of history, nautical traditions all come together there.”
These sailors say they learned a lot about themselves during this deployment.
“Mentally, I became stronger,” said Bogan-Williams. “It was definitely hard being away from everybody and not being able to talk to everyone every day.”
“I am a lot tougher than I think,” Leister said. “A lot more mentally strong than I thought.”
Now, they are thrilled to be back home again.