NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The USS Mahan returned to Virginia on Friday following a deployment of more than 8 months that included being positioned in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for a potential strike against Syria.
The Mahan is a guided-missile destroyer that left Naval Station Norfolk in December, when it was sent toward Europe to conduct ballistic missile defense and other maritime security operations. But just as the regularly scheduled deployment was winding down, the Mahan was told to head toward Syria the day after U.S. officials said there had been a chemical weapons attack there.
"We answered a presidential order, but we're forward deployed all the time," said Cmdr. Zoah Scheneman, the Mahan's commanding officer. "That's what makes the Navy special - always forward deployed ready to answer any call that's ever given to us."
Scheneman said that for the crew, it was largely business as usual as their deployment was extended for a few more weeks as President Barack Obama and other officials decided whether to launch at attack.
But for family members waiting back home, it was nerve-wracking.
"We went maybe about three weeks with no communication whatsoever. It was just us watching the news. That was our only information," said Laqushia Williams of Harrisonburg, Va., whose sister serves aboard the Mahan as a cryptology technician. "I was praying. I was hoping we wasn't about to go to war. It kind of affected me that innocent people got hurt, but I felt like the United States got enough problems as it is to go and start a new war with someone else, so I was just praying that we wasn't going to war."
Numerous other family and friends of crew members waiting to greet their loved ones with cardboard signs and American flags as it pulled into a pier at Naval Station Norfolk echoed those sentiments.
Many family members said they felt fortunate the Mahan was able to come home, while four other Norfolk-based destroyers remain on scene in the eastern Mediterranean. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the USS Barry's commanding officer to personally thank him and his crew for their service as they were ordered to remain on scene past their originally scheduled deployment's end date.
"I haven't come down off this cloud for two weeks," said Etta Hall of Paducah, Ky., whose son serves aboard the Mahan. "I wanted Obama to send them all home. There was no sense in being over there."
However, other family members of the crew said it wasn't quite that clear cut.
"You know, I have mixed feelings on it," said Chesapeake resident Joe Smith, whose wife serves as a counselor aboard the Mahan. "Should we be involved? To a point, yeah, because people died. But is it really our business? So you're torn."
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis