NAVAL STATION BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- Excitement rose and teardrops fell as hundreds of friends and family members lined Delta Pier Nov. 5, eagerly awaiting USS Bridge's (AOE 10) return to Puget Sound from her eight-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
The fast-combat support ship provided prompt and sustained replenishment operations at sea for the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Group, the last of strike groups involved in the combat phase of OIF.
The crew safely transferred more than 90 million gallons of fuel, 15,000 pallets of cargo and 16 million pounds of ammunition during more than 200 underway replenishments.
The outstanding effort put forth by more than 500 Sailors manning the 45,500-ton warship enabled the strike group to maintain a constant presence in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Commanding Officer Capt. Dick Stockton said he couldn't be prouder.
"The crew performed superbly," said Stockton. "Today, they are smiling bigger than I have seen in eight months, and that's what makes a captain very happy."
With their contribution to OIF and OEF complete, the crew is ready to tackle a new mission ... rest and relaxation with loved ones.
Armed with gifts, flowers and banners, the anxious crowd arrived late in the morning, locked-and-loaded to cheer off the cold.
Della Kohel, wife of Electronics Technician 2nd Class (SW) Scott Kohel, arrived hours before Bridge's scheduled mooring time to ensure a good parking spot. She was among the first of the expected 1,000 supporters. Biding the wait, her 1-year-old daughter Aerionna romped in an inflatable-bouncing play area provided by Naval Station Bremerton's Morale Welfare and Recreation Department.
The play area complemented the carnival-like environment, complete with roaming clowns, T-shirt giveaways and raffles, which according to MWR's homecoming ringmaster Chris Warthen, was designed to offer a memorable experience.
Storekeeper 2nd Class Angella Drinkard enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere as she waited anxiously for her husband, Information Systems Technician 1st Class (SW) Jeff Drinkard. Thirty-five days after Bridge deployed, Drinkard gave birth to twins -- Hannah and Caleb. She said she was excited to finally share the joy of their new blessings with her husband.
"He's going to love Hannah's smile ... she has a very shy smile," said Angella. "She smiles, puts her head down then kind of peeks up at you."
Drinkard was one of 15 new fathers aboard Bridge, but thanks to the Fleet Family Service Center's "new dad" classes conducted while the ship was underway, adjusting to the change should be easier. Angella has no worries. She said they plan to go through the process slowly by learning together, now that communication over the Internet is no longer necessary.
Substituting the information superhighway for a phone was common among Bridge Sailors. Seaman Grant Guirl received more than 2,400 e-mails from his family.
"We talked to people who deployed back when there wasn't e-mail, and hearing their stories makes us feel very fortunate," said Tina Nabseth, Guirl's mom.
Nabseth was joined by an entourage of family fueled by excitement after seeing Guirl's picture in their hometown newspaper, which was provided by the Navy's Fleet Hometown News Program.
At 3:30 p.m., with anticipation peaking, the brow was finally locked into place. Winners of the first-kiss contest placed their feet on Bremerton pier, primed to plant a long-awaited smooch on their special someone.
The new dads then made their way across the brow to greet the newest additions to their Navy household, followed by a resounding, "liberty call, liberty call," which granted dry land for the entire crew.
Stockton said the ship would endure two more at-sea periods in conjunction with an upcoming fleet-wide maintenance inspection some time after November. After which, the ship will be turned over to her new master in the Military Sealift Command June 24. Until then, the crew can enjoy a relaxing standdown.
For related news, visit the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn70.