- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - An aircraft carrier strike group returned home to Norfolk on Wednesday, ending an extended deployment that supported the battle against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

More than 6,000 sailors disembarked from the USS Harry S. Truman and other ships. A stream of white uniforms flowed into a crowd of about 10,000 people waiting on a pier.

The sailors deployed in November, just days after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Back home on Wednesday, some reflected on their fight against terrorism, dozens saw their infant children for the first time. Many made plans to eat the food they craved during their eight-month tour.

The Navy extended the group’s time at sea by about a month, sending the Truman group from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, where it continued to launch strikes against Islamic State militants.

The Navy says the order demonstrated the power of the American military, which has helped allies reclaim 45 percent of ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and 20 percent of the land in Syria.

‘WE’RE A PART OF HELPING’

Kevin Gillespie, 27, a military police officer from Los Angeles, said he knows they helped make a difference.

“The news trickles into us on the ship,” Gillespie said. “And we continued to hear about what happened in Paris, and then in San Bernardino, in Orlando and everywhere else. And every time we hear it, it feels good to know we’re a part of helping to stop this horrible organization.”

Now, he’s mostly thinking about eating good food and showering alone, he said.

“Every time you do a deployment it reminds you of the little things you take for granted,” he said, “like cellphones, your bed, your privacy.”

‘STANDING UP ON MY OWN TWO FEET’

Jeffrey Miller, 22, a specialist who maintains aircraft tires and helicopter propellers, said he was shaking after meeting his 7-month-old son Jhorden for the first time.

It’s an “amazing” feeling, he said. The monthlong extension of his first deployment “tore him up on the inside.”

Miller said the eight months made him more independent, particularly after he couldn’t speak with his family for weeks at a time, and emails were delayed for days.

“It was hard dealing with,” said Miller, who lives in Norfolk but grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. “But I’m standing up on my own two feet now.”

‘WISH THERE WASN’T A NEED FOR WAR’

Lt. Shane Kigin cradled his 5-month-old son, Henry, as the infant chewed on the sleeve of his uniform. The family’s immediate plan: finding air conditioning, and a burrito. Then, they plan to move from Texas to Norfolk, where Kigin works as a tactical action officer to defend the Truman from attacks.

“I wish there wasn’t a need for war,” he said. “I wish there weren’t people who wanted to hurt others. But because there are and because this is the calling I have, I feel blessed to have served at this very important time in our history.”


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