Nahla Hutchins waits for her husband, Michael, to get off the USS Carl Vinson. Photo by Chris Stone

Sushi, steak, lobster, family time and relaxation awaited 5,000 USS Carl Vinson crew members who missed Thanksgiving and Christmas, but anchored back home Valentine’s Day.

”I can’t describe the feelings,” said Megan Sisto, who waited for her husband to disembark Monday morning at North Island. “I already cried a couple of times.”

“Valentine’s Day makes it a little sweeter,” but any day he returned would have been fine for her, said Sisto, joined by her daughters, Mia, 2, and Lucy Grace, 3 months.

“Very emotional,” “super happy,” “too good to be true” and “very special” were ways other spouses expressed their feelings after a wait since June.

Capt. P. Scott Miller, commander of the aircraft carrier, called the deployment “100% effective and outstanding.” He said the ship departed with a little bit of COVID — about 30 cases — but returned to San Diego with zero cases. 

“We were talking about Valentine’s Day on the bridge,” he told reporters. “Did someone forget to get flowers or some kind of gift? I figured we were enough of a Valentine’s present ourselves.”

Asked about the South China Sea crash of an F-35C Lightning II stealth jet Jan. 24, which injured seven military personnel, Miller said the investigation is ongoing. He praised the resiliency of his crew.

“We had some injured personnel on the flight deck, and we were able to care for them immediately,” Miller said. He said the flight desk was recertified in three hours. Airborne craft were sent to the carrier Abraham Lincoln and later returned.

Flight operations resumed at 6 a.m. the next day, he said.

Meanwhile, Carrington Smaw waited with his 2–year-old daughter, Braelyn. He spoke of the impending wedding anniversary with his sailor wife, Ashlee.

But he did lament that his wife hasn’t “been able to see the kids grow up,” and missed out on holidays and birthdays. They have three children.

Mothers expressed happiness to have their spouses return to help take care of the children. One wife was left alone to deal with a miscarriage.

Alexis Blodgett, with her 5-week-old daughter Jensen, said riding a Peloton for about 10,000 minutes was her “saving grace.”

Blodgett said Jensen, being a first daughter, will wrap her husband, Josh, “around her little finger.”

As for her 4-year-old son, Julian, he’s “ready to wrestle and roughhouse” with his dad, she said.

The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group went to U.S. 3rd and 7th fleets areas of operation.

The USS Carl Vinson enters San Diego Bay on Monday. Navy photo

While deployed, the group operated throughout the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea and the waters off the Hawaiian Islands.

Deployed along with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Vinson were nine air squadrons, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and the guided-missile destroyers USS Chafee, USS O’Kane, USS Stockdale and USS Michael Murphy.

“The tireless dedication and professionalism of our sailors, through a global pandemic, challenging operational tempo, and sacrificed time away from family, is truly humbling,” said Miller, the commanding officer.

“Their efforts have demonstrated flexibility and resiliency and ensured mission success in every task. They have directly supported a free and open Indo-Pacific and have underscored our Navy’s readiness, strength and lethality.”

Ships in the strike group traveled more than 80,000 nautical miles while underway for 262 days and “conducted dual carrier operations and multinational exercises, including maritime security operations, integrated training between surface and air units, long-range maritime strike, anti-submarine warfare, information warfare operations, maritime interdiction operations, personnel recovery, air defense operations, multiple ship navigation and formation maneuvering and refueling-at-sea operations,” a statement from the Navy read.

The Carl Vinson was the first aircraft carrier to deploy with a combined complement of F-35C Lightning IIs, CMV-22B Ospreys, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, MH-60R and MH-60S Sea Hawks.

During the deployment, the air wing clocked more than 15,000 fixed-wing and helicopter flight hours comprising of 7,791 sorties, 7,702 launches and 7,761 aircraft arrestments.

The strike group completed operations and exercises alongside navies from Australia, Canada, Germany, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom as well as the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

“Alongside our partners and allies, we have aggressively pursued every opportunity to elevate our combat readiness in a drive to continue upholding regional stability,” said Rear Adm. Dan Martin, commander of Carrier Strike Group 1.

“We’ve been doing this for 75 years and I’m proud to say that our team has relentlessly paid tribute to this legacy with many long hours of sweat and determination that started well before we left San Diego.”

Updated at 8:45 p.m. Feb. 14, 2022

City News Service contributed to this report.