There’s been a weary sense of quiet — if a busy and edgy quiet — on USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75) for the last few hours. The air wing has flown off. The deployment, which started in July 2013, and for which Truman has maintained full readiness since February 2013, is almost over. Truman is scheduled to arrive at the carrier piers in Norfolk, VA at 10:00 AM Eastern time.
That’s less than nine hours from now. The families who will be waiting at the pier can’t even sleep tonight. They’re too wired. The sailors have too much to do to try and sleep. Forklifts zip around a weirdly empty, echoing hangar bay. Mess cranks tend the “midrats” one last time underway. Junior officers can hardly concentrate on their inevitable paperwork. Chiefs congregate in the passageways — maybe, just for tonight, jawing without worry or rebuke. A few dauntless souls get in a last workout on the gym equipment, but most would rather sort and pack, or finish all the chores so they can race off the ship as soon as possible — after the fathers of newborn babies, of course, who get head-of-the-line privileges.
Some of the crew will be staying on the ship to man the first in-port watch. Many of their families, and others, will surge aboard to walk Truman with them, carry gear off, wear ballcaps, eat soft-serve on the mess decks.
But first, the crew will man the rails one last time on the 2013-14 deployment. The odor of a ship at sea will linger on their clothing and gear for quite a while. Taking up family life again will be glorious and challenging. The work, the routine, the obligations — everything that goes with a great warship — will all remain, still to be tended, eventually to be handed off to the next sailor who stands the watch.
But for now, it’s over. Mission accomplished.
Welcome home, shipmates.