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NAS LEMOORE — After six months, 10 members of the Naval Air Station Lemoore-based squadron the VFA-146 Blue Diamonds returned home Monday from Pacific deployment aboard USS Nimitz, just in time for the holidays.

“It feels a bit crazy. I feel like I have been waiting for this day forever and it doesn’t quite feel real yet,” said Elizabeth Mason, who was waiting for her husband, Lt. Joe Mason of the British Navy. “Until he’s here I’m not sure I’m going to believe it.”

“I recognized her,” Joe Mason said of his waiting wife after landing. “I waved at her from the cockpit. I wanted to get the awkward hello out of the way and just get back to being together again.”

“It wasn’t awkward for me, I was just crying,” Elizabeth Mason said.

The couple, who have been married for nearly four years, were reunited with a long kiss and embrace with no mind to the cold wind that whipped about Monday.

In fact, the cold seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s mind as wives, kids and family members patiently and excitedly waited for the Blue Diamonds to land.

The Shulman family, including mom, Tasha, and children Madison, 11, and Savannah, 7, held signs as they waited for Commanding Officer Andy Shulman to arrive back from his sixth deployment.

Andy Shulman said he recognized his family right away and felt “a wave of relief” when he finally parked.

“It feels incredible to be back,” Andy Shulman said. “It’s good to finally be back home and nice to make it back before Christmas-time.”

Tasha Shulman said it felt amazing to have her husband back and was thankful for the other spouses, who she said rallied together and supported each other through the last six months.

“It takes a village to get through deployment and we have a great one,” Tasha Shulman said. “That made it a lot easier, but I am actually so glad and relieved now that this day is here.”

Though Andy Shulman said his job is rewarding, he said it never gets easier to leave his family for a long period of time.

“It’s really exciting to be back and see how much the kids have grown,” Andy Shulman said. “It’s incredible.”

Tasha Shulman said Madison and Savannah had been through three other deployments, but this was the first one that they were old enough to really remember. She said the children were strong and resilient the entire time their father was away.

“They knew that their daddy was doing an important job so they waited patiently, but they could not be more happy to have him home,” Tasha Shulman said.

After the holidays, the Shulman family has plans for a well-deserved vacation.

The VFA-147 Argonauts and VFA-154 Black Knights were also deployed with the Blue Diamonds as part of Carrier Air Wing 11 aboard USS Nimitz. Members of the Argonauts and Black Nights also returned home on Monday.

During the deployment, the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG) operated with Australian, British, French, Indian, Japanese, New Zealand and Republic of Korea navies to promote security, stability and prosperity.

Nimitz CSG participated in a three-carrier strike force exercise in the Western Pacific, Nov. 11-14. While at sea, Nimitz conducted air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, close-in coordinated maneuvers and other training.

The coordinated operations in international waters demonstrated the Navy’s capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups as a coordinated strike force effort.

This was the first time three carrier strike groups operated together in the Western Pacific since exercises Valiant Shield 2006 and 2007 off the coast of Guam. The exercise focused on the ability to rapidly bring together forces from three strike groups in response to any regional situation.

“The crew was a lot of fun,” Joe Mason said. “We did some good work out there.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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