EVERETT, Wash. – After nearly 10 months at sea, the USS Abraham Lincoln (search) finally steamed into its homeport Tuesday, greeted by a jubilant crowd of thousands waving signs of welcome, blowing kisses and carrying yellow ribbons and red, white and blue balloons.
First off the ship were 87 new dads, whose babies were born while they were at sea.
"What up?" Fire Controlman Antonio Myers, 25, asked his wide-eyed, 4-month-old son, Amiri, who blinked at this strange new fellow in the crush of happy families at Naval Station Everett (search).
The 1,100-foot ship left Everett on July 20 for a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf to support the war on terrorism. It was headed home when it received orders to turn around and head back to the Gulf for the war in Iraq (search).
It ended up being one the longest deployments of a nuclear-powered carrier since Vietnam, but no aircraft or Navy personnel were lost. The Lincoln docked last week in San Diego, where about 1,500 sailors got off the ship, and began the final leg of its journey home on Saturday.
And not everyone got off the ship Tuesday. About 400 sailors had to stay onboard, including Seaman David Montoya, 19, of Walnut, Calif., who was in for another 48 hours of work.
"After 10 months, what's another 48 hours?" he said. "I'm just happy to be here."
And there was no jealousy in Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Baker as he watched jubilant family reunions unfold right and left. "It's great to see everyone get back to their families," said Baker, 21, of Bradenton, Fla. "I'll be able to get back to my family. I'll have my own homecoming in Florida."
Another new dad, Martin Finnegan, 27, an electronics technician 3rd class, basked in the company of his fiancee, 22-year-old Jessica Fitzhugh, and their baby girl Rylee, just three weeks old.
Finnegan said he got to shake President Bush's hand when the commander in chief visited the Lincoln last week. That was a thrill, he said, "but it doesn't hold a lamp to Jessica and Rylee."
Tameka Myers watched her husband get acquainted with his son. Nearby where her two older children, 9-year-old Tyshawna and 6-year-old Joseph.
"It was tough when we found out he got extended, but me and the neighbors, we just tried to hold together and tough it out," said Tameka Myers, who wore a baby-bottle-shaped button identifying her as "New Mom 38."
The Lincoln was just seven days out of Everett last July when 22-year-old Christina Mann, a cook on board, learned she was pregnant. She was flown home to have the baby, and her fiance, 27-year-old Machinist Mate Erich Cress, remained on board.
But he was able to talk her through labor from the carrier when baby Emma was born April 1. Waiting for him dockside Tuesday, Mann said she was "so happy to see him, I feel numb."
Among those making trips to Everett for the homecoming were Mayquel Valverde, 26, and his wife, Valerie. The couple traveled from Beebe, Ark., to welcome home Mayquel's brother, Carlos, 28, a dental hygienist on the ship.
"I haven't seen my brother for almost a year," Mayquel Valverde said. "Thank God nothing happened to him."