LEMOORE — The F/A-18E jets of three strike fighter squadrons returned to Naval Air Station Lemoore Wednesday after a nearly six-month deployment aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).

Pilots from NASL-based squadrons VFA-2 “Bounty Hunters,” VFA-137 “Kestrels” and VFA-192 “Golden Dragons,” assigned to Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) were met with overjoyed and excited wives, children, family members and friends.

Masha St. George waited anxiously for her husband of a year and a half, Lt. Tom St. George, to return home. She said his return had been a long time coming, and the first thing she was going to do was give her husband a big hug and a kiss.

In preparation for the day, St. George said she cleaned her house and bought all of her husband’s favorite snacks. She said she was going to relish the time she gets to spend with her husband before he begins preparing for his next deployment.

Margaret Hurst waited with her sons David, 3, and Zachary, 1, for their husband and dad, Lt. Cmdr. Tyler Hurst. She said they were all excited and couldn’t wait to see him again for the first time in almost six months.

“David is very excited,” Hurst said. “He’s ready for daddy to be home.”

Hurst said Zachary is too small to really understand what’s going on, but she had conversations with both her kids and talked to them about their dad coming home. Hurst said she and her children made signs and decorated their house to welcome him home.

Cmdr. Gerry Tritz, commanding officer of the “Golden Dragons” said it feels great for the squadron to be home after almost six months. He said the squadron was all over the Pacific, and conducted port visits in Fiji, Guam, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Saipan, Singapore and Solomon Islands. While visiting each port, they participated in community service events, including volunteer service at schools, community centers, animal shelters and food banks.

During the deployment, the strike group conducted operations with the Republic of Korea Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. They also participated in the maritime portion of Exercise Foal Eagle, a series of annual defense-oriented training events designed to increase readiness to defend the Republic of Korea, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Tritz said the squadron was a couple hundred miles off the coast and were glad to see clear weather to make the trip home quickly to their families.

“To see everyone lined up at the hangar — there’s nothing like it,” Tritz said. “[There’s] nothing like coming home.”

Tritz said he has “nothing but pride” to work with the hundreds of sailors from all across the country in the Navy who help keep the jets flying and combat-ready. He said they all make a lot of sacrifices to do what they do.

There are around 6,500 sailors deployed on Carl Vinson Strike Group, with over 1,800 sailors assigned to Carrier Air Wing 2. Almost 700 sailors from Carrier Air Wing 2 are stationed at NASL.

Now that he’s home, Tritz said he looks forward to taking time off and possibly take a vacation to Disneyland with his family.

“Coming home never gets old,” Tritz said. “Doing the flyover and getting to see everybody is definitely the best part.”

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

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