- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

NORFOLK After months of putting in grueling hours in the war against terrorism, the crew of the first aircraft carrier to deploy after September 11 returned home yesterday to cheers of "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.," from thousands of relatives and friends.
Sailors lined the rails as the USS Theodore Roosevelt pulled into the Norfolk Naval Station shortly after 9 a.m., ending a 189-day cruise that included air strikes against Afghanistan.
Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, flew on board as the ship neared shore to thank the crew for a job well done.
"We still have 30 ships out there and thousands of shipmates who continue to do the job," he added. "The answer to [the war on terrorism] is not, have we captured Osama Bin Laden … but rather keeping them on the defensive, keeping them running. We are winning."
At the Norfolk Naval Station, thousands began gathering on the pier as early as 6 a.m., many carrying flowers or American flags. As the ship pulled into view shortly after 8 a.m., the crowd roared.
Relatives of Shawn Etheridge, 21, a nuclear-reactor technician, carried a sign reading, "Welcome Home, Shawn! We salute you and the T.R. crew for your courage, honor and commitment. Congratulations on a job well done."
The crewman's mother, Cheryl Leith, of Elizabeth City, N.C., said she had many sleepless nights while her son was at sea. "My faith in God is what kept me going," she said.
Miranda Whipke, 21, of Waynesburg, Pa., waited eagerly on the pier for Adam Chapman, 22, a fireman on the carrier. The two plan to marry on Saturday.
"It's like the best week of my life. He's my best friend, he's my hero, too," she said.
At a tent for crewmen who are new fathers, Lt. Cmdr. Carther Jorgensen cradled his 4-month old son, Alexander Charles, each smiling broadly at each other.
"I'm so glad I'm home. It seems he knew who I was. He smiled," Cmdr. Jorgensen said.
The stint lasted nine days longer than the typical deployment. The Roosevelt spent 159 consecutive days at sea without a port call a record for an aircraft carrier. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower set the previous record of 152 in 1980.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Williamson said some days were so long and difficult that sometimes he just wanted to get away from everyone for a while no easy feat aboard a bustling carrier where privacy is minimal and space is at a premium.
"I'm excited about going home, even though I don't look it, because I'm tired," Petty Officer Williamson, 22, of Cleveland, said Tuesday. The Roosevelt was less than 300 miles off the Virginia coast by Tuesday night.
Tuesday morning, about 60 aircraft flew off the Roosevelt to head to their bases in Virginia, South Carolina, Florida and Washington state.
The remaining aircraft making up the carrier wing, six SH-60 helicopters, flew off early yesterday , about three hours before the carrier was to pull into the Norfolk Naval Station.
The aircraft from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 11 then will have to fly five hours to their home base in Jacksonville, Fla.
"We're always the first to get here and the last to go," said Lt. Cmdr. J.R. Nettleton, 36, of Jacksonsville, a pilot and the squadron's maintenance officer. The helicopters provide force protection and search-and-rescue support for the fixed-wing aircraft embarked on the ship.
On Tuesday, members of the squadron were busy packing their equipment in their hangar bay. All over the ship, thousands of sailors handled last-minute duties and stuffed their gear and souvenirs into their bags.
The Roosevelt and three other ships in its battle group the guided-missile cruisers USS Leyte Gulf and USS Vella Gulf, and the destroyer USS Peterson were to return to Norfolk Naval Station. The oiler USS Detroit will return to the Earle Naval Weapons Station in New Jersey. More than 7,000 sailors and Marines were aboard the ships, including about 5,500 on the Roosevelt.
The Roosevelt departed on Sept. 19 with the recent horror of the terrorist attacks fueling the crew's determination.
"Everybody's got to make a stand sometime," said Rear Adm. Mark P. Fitzgerald, commander of the Roosevelt battle group. "Our young men and women chose to make a stand, for their families, for America, for their friends. They all realized this was going to be a life-changing event."

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