San Diego-based sailors return home after 10 months at sea, Iraq war

Friday, April 25th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ABOARD THE USS SHILOH (AP) _ With San Diego finally in sight Friday, Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Klase began to count the minutes before he could hold his daughter for the very first time.

He had been at sea aboard the USS Shiloh, one of two missile cruisers returning to port Friday after nearly 10 months _ the longest U.S. Navy deployment since the Vietnam War.

While the ships were firing Tomahawk cruise missiles during the opening stages of the war in Iraq, Klase's wife was home in St. Petersburg, Fla., with baby Halie, born in October.

``It's just going to be exciting to go home and hold her for the first time,'' said Klase, 26.

The new fathers aboard the USS Shiloh, returning with the USS Mobile Bay on Friday, were among the first sailors off the ship and hugging people in the waiting crowd that lined the piers and docks in San Diego.

Seaman Faris Rimola, 23, of Vevay, Ind., watched the welcome-back celebration with a wide smile.

``It's more than I expected,'' he said. ``All the whistling and yelling, it's pretty good stuff.''

As the USS Shiloh steamed toward port, Roger Cooper said he knew he had some explaining to do to his 6-year-old son.

Cooper's son had counted the days until his father was supposed to return in January. But the petty officer second class didn't make it then. The ship, part of the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group, was on its way back to San Diego when it was ordered to the Persian Gulf to support the war in Iraq.

``You can't expect a 6-year-old to understand why you can't come home,'' said Cooper, 30, of Lakeland, Fla.

Cooper said he has played the arrival over in his mind many times. In one scene, his son runs to him in open arms. In the other, he runs away from him.

``It's going to take a little while to get adjusted,'' he said. ``I just want to spend time with my family.''

Sailors aboard the USS Shiloh said they were most looking forward to the little things that come with being home, including time spent with family, a meal at a favorite restaurant or simply driving a car. Many of the ship's 400 sailors spent their last hours walking the passageways and packing up their belongings.

``It's like the night before Christmas. It's the anticipation factor. You can't sleep,'' said Lt. Kate Macleod, 23, of Vienna, Va.

Petty Officer 3rd Class A.J. Brock, 27, of Fort Smith, Ark., emailed his wife with details of the arrival, even about where he'll be standing when the ship pulls in.

``I've been thinking about what I'm going to do, what I'm going to say,'' Brock said. ``I just want to spend time with her.''

Petty Officer 2nd Class Katie Berven, 24, of Oakridge, Tenn., said her mother planned to meet her. Their first stop if Berven gets her way: ``I want a Starbucks coffee.''