More than 4,000 sailors and Marines from the USS Wasp Amphibious Ready Group arrived home on Christmas Eve, just in time to spend the holidays with their loved ones. Thousands of family members gathered at the edge of Pier 9 at Norfolk Naval Station to give their friends and family a very merry reception.
The Sailors and Marines had spent six months away from their families on deployment. The USS Wasp was one of three ships that returned American service members from the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf where they focused on fighting ISIS in Sirte, Libya. Many of the returning sailors and Marines were integral members of Operation Odyssey Lightning and the liberation of Sirte according to a Navy news release.
Their arrival was a Christmas miracle for many military families. Jeffery Alston of Virginia Beach is just one of the military family members that kept the return a secret until the last minute. He told reporters that he waited until the morning of the arrival to break the news to the rest of the family. He told reporters:
“I was holding out for a little Christmas surprise… It’s crazy, it’s fun. It makes the rain disappear.”
Those assigned to the USS Wasp weren’t the only ones celebrating, however. The amphibious transport dock San Antonio returned to Norfolk on Saturday, and the dock landing ship Whidbey Island also returned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach.
The return was comprised of many reunions. Amanda Wiltshire carried a sign for her husband, Lt. Stephen Wiltshire, reading:
“181 days since our last kiss.”
However, it wasn’t just a compilation of reunions. The Christmas Eve arrival was also a chance for many service members to make first impressions. A sign on a stroller carrying a newborn baby bore the words:
“Out of my way, I’m meeting my daddy today.”