‘It feels amazing to be home’: Eisenhower Strike Group returns to Norfolk

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Virginia and William Difilippantonio embraced after the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group docked in Naval Station Norfolk on Dec. 30, 2016. The couple have been separated for a year, with William coming home from deployment USS Harry S. Truman in June, weeks after Virginia deployed. (Amy Poulter/Southside Daily)

Virginia and William Difilippantonio embraced after the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group docked in Naval Station Norfolk on Dec. 30, 2016. The couple were separated for a year, with William coming home from deployment on the USS Harry S. Truman in June, weeks after Virginia deployed. (Amy Poulter/Southside Daily)

When William Difilippantonio saw his wife, Virginia, on pier 14 of Naval Station Norfolk, he couldn’t wait another second to kiss her.

William jumped over a rail separating families from incoming sailors, grabbed his wife, picked her up and held her tightly. They were all smiles as William took Virginia’s backpack, exchanging it for his coat and a bouquet of flowers.

The couple, who were married in May 2015, have been separated for more than a year by two back-to-back deployments.

“It felt pretty bad. She was my relief,” William said. “While I was coming home, she was going out.”

William was the first to leave on Nov. 3, 2015 with the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group. The planned seven-month deployment was extended by 30 days, bringing him back to Norfolk on July 13 – a month and a half after Virginia deployed for seven months with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group.

When asked, Virginia said it felt wonderful to be back in Norfolk. She had no words for how it felt to see her husband – only a kiss.

Virginia was one of more than 6,000 sailors aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group who returned home from a seven-month deployment Friday.

USS Eisenhower

USS Eisenhower
Sailor Dustin Garner hugs his mother, who drove with family all the way from Tennessee to welcome her son home on Friday, December 30, 2016. (Amy Poulter/Southside Daily)

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The seven-ship strike group spent their deployment in the Mediterranean and Red seas, as well as the Arabian Gulf. They performed "continuous combat operations," including aviation strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, Admiral Phil Davidson said during a press conference.

The deployment wasn't easy. The USS Mason defended itself and other American ships against cruise missiles while they were in the Red Sea on Oct. 9, and the USS Nitze performed a Tomahawk strike against radar sites on the Yemeni coast, according to a United States Navy press release.

"A Navy homecoming is very special," Davidson said. "They demonstrated flexibility... and the relevance of Naval forces."

Holly Sliva said she drove from Jacksonville, Fla. to meet her husband, Neil, on the pier. The pair have been married just over a year.

While Sliva said she’s excited to celebrate a belated Christmas, first anniversary and first birthday of their puppy, Kirby, she’s also afraid of the unknown.

“(The sailors) might need time to themselves, to get readjusted,” Sliva said.

For Dustin Garner and his family, coming home meant a chance to celebrate a belated birthday. Garner turned 21 years old 10 days before the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower pulled back into Norfolk.

Garner exchanged hugs with his family, including his crying mother, before the group burst into song, belting out “Happy Birthday” to him on the pier.

“It was rough, but we made it through,” Garner said of his deployment. “It feels amazing to be home.”

Mayfield can be reached at adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.

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