NORFOLK, Va. -- A sailor got the greeting of a lifetime Friday morning in Norfolk, Virginia.
First Class Fire Controlman Nicholas Pender met his 5-month-old son Oliver for the first time as he returned home from deployment.
“It’s amazing. I’ve seen pictures for five months and it’s a great feeling to get to stand here and look at him and hold him," Pender said.
Over 300 men and woman arrived as the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) returned to Naval Station Norfolk after being at sea for seven months. Hundreds of family and friends awaited the sailors on shore.
Like so many other military spouses, Pender's wife, Kari, held down the fort while he was away. Also in the Navy, she was with him aboard the ship before they got married.
“I was supposed to be on this deployment so it’s nice to know everyone and have them all home," she said.
The USS Jason Dunham was in the Navy's 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation which cover the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. The Navy's 6th Fleet covers areas of operation in Europe.
“This is the best ship and the best crew I’ve ever been a part of and while there are people aboard that this is their first deployment, we were absolutely manned, equipped, trained and ready to go," said Commander John Hamilton.
The guided-missile destroyer was doing security operations, at one point seizing more than 2,800 guns off a boat in the Gulf of Aden.
In July, tragedy struck the USS Jason Dunham when Ensign Sarah Mitchell, 23, lost her life while conducting small boat operations in the Red Sea.
“Thinking of Ensign Sarah Mitchell’s family today mostly," said Sarah Marshall, who was on her first deployment aboard the USS Jason Dunham. "It’s been a long seven months, but we did what we set out to accomplish and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Following a break over the holidays, Cmdr. Hamilton says the USS Jason Dunham will go in for maintenance before it can go underway.