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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 10, 2003

First Hawai'i troops heading home from war

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

More than 650 Pearl Harbor sailors on two ships are on their way home from the Persian Gulf — the first local service members to return from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ivan P. Kealoha of Hawai'i poses with a 2,000-pound bomb in an undated photo. He has been deployed nearly nine months on board the Lincoln.

Photo courtesy of Ivan P. Kealoha

The destroyer Paul Hamilton and frigate Reuben James, both part of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group, are expected home in about 18 days.

"As of today, (the battle group ships) have departed the Gulf," Pacific Fleet spokesman Ensign Mike Morley said yesterday. It will be the first homecoming for a large unit involved in the war.

Another 40 to 50 crew members on the Lincoln, based out of Everett, Wash., have hometown ties to the Islands. Navy officials said they were not sure if the carrier would stop in Hawai'i on its way to San Diego and Washington state.

For the Lincoln and its escorts, the deployment was one for the record books. The battle group was at the tail end of a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf, and had stopped in Australia when it received orders to turn around and head back, tacking on almost three more months of duty.

The carrier, with a squadron of new F/A-18 Super Hornet attack aircraft on board, took part in regular strikes on Iraq, and the Paul Hamilton fired Tomahawk missiles on March 21.

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The last time a U.S. carrier was deployed for that length of time was during the Vietnam War, when the USS Oriskany was at sea for 10 months in 1972 and 1973, the Navy said.

"Lincoln's deployment is the longest-ever deployment for any nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," said Cmdr. Ed Buclatin, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces Pacific in San Diego.

Daniel Page, 30, an electronics technician on the Paul Hamilton, called Tuesday night to tell his wife he was finally coming home.

"I'm extremely excited," Teresa Page said. "When he called me, I started jumping up and down around the house screaming. The neighbors probably thought I'd lost my mind."

The Navy man missed Christmas with his wife and 15-year-old daughter, his wife's birthday and their wedding anniversary.

"We were supposed to be in Vegas in February for my birthday," she said. Page said she got the news of the extended deployment on New Year's Eve. Now she's shooting for a trip to Maui for her husband's birthday on May 5.

"I told him, 'We're going to get a secluded place and just hang out on the beach,' " she said.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ivan P. Kealoha, a master at arms on board the Lincoln whose parents live in Hilo, said there were about 40 to 50 crew members on the aircraft carrier from Hawai'i.

"I would like to say mahalo for the support of us local bruddas and sistas on board (the Lincoln) on our extended deployment," Kealoha said by e-mail.

When time permitted, Kealoha said, crew members from Hawai'i would "listen to Hawaiian music, talk about the Island style, and just kick back."

Genaro Deuz, 35, a mess manager on the Lincoln from Kapolei, said it was hard to leave his wife and 18-month-old baby. He flew to San Diego in July to embark on the ship as part of Destroyer Squadron 31.

"I never, throughout my naval career, would think that I (would) be with a crew that will either tie a record-setting deployment or surpass the mark," Deuz said.

Even though he knew his family worried about his safety, he felt the war was necessary.

"For the price that all this is worth, we feel that the whole world, and especially our nation, will feel a lot more secure," he said.

Within the eight-ship battle group, Navy commanders found it a challenge to keep up morale for such a long deployment. Crew members on the Lincoln got a "steel beach picnic" with grills and games on deck in mid-March before the war began, and other ships followed suit.

For Daniel Page, the record-setting deployment was his first on a ship. His wife has organized troop-support rallies every Saturday morning at Ala Moana Park.

"I have to pat the wives on the back who have been married to a serviceman for many years, because it's really tough," Teresa Page said. "You don't realize until your other half is gone."