NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Hundreds of men and women with Carrier Air Wing Eight began returning home Thursday from a seven-month deployment. A majority of the squadrons arrived on Friday.
Squadrons deployed in January as a part of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group. The air wing conducted missions and security operations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq and Syria.
Navy officials said there were more than 30,800 flight hours logged — including over 12,000 in combat — during the deployment. More than 300 service members, and 58 aircraft, will be returning from the deployment.
The first squadron, VRC-40, “The Rawhides,” arrived at Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field on Thursday
Gallery: Carrier Air Wing Eight Returns Home
About 50 men and women arrived on two C-2A Greyhounds. Their main mission was to move cargo, mail and passengers between ship and shore. While deployed, the Rawhides flew more than 500 missions and delivered over 700,000 pounds of cargo, the Navy said.
Lt. Cdr. James Light of Norfolk was greeted by his family and friends after seven months apart.
“It was a really historic successful deployment for the Bush, and it’s great to be home and see our families because the most important thing is your family back home supporting you and that allows us to do our job and be successful out there,” he said.
Light’s son Jude was eager to have him home.
“I’m feeling happy because my dad, he takes me to a lot of my swim meets, so now he can take me to all of my swim meets,” he said.
The rest of the air wing returned Friday to either Chambers Field or Naval Air Station Oceana.
Victoria King’s husband deployed with VFA-213, “The Blacklions,” when their daughter Rain was a newborn. Now, she’s 10 months old.
“I don’t even have words. I’m really excited… We’re just going to hug him and not let go,” King said.
Stephanie Baker and her family recounted everything her husband, CDR Patrick Baker, had missed since January.
“I’m just emotional. It’s been a long seven months and I’m ready for my husband to be home… We missed spring break. We missed Easter,” she said.
Baker’s six-year-old son Rory couldn’t wait to show dad that he lost a tooth while he was gone.
“It is fantastic. I’ve done this a couple times now, but still every time it’s fantastic, and not just for me, my family, but just watching everybody on the flight line, the smiles up and down. It’s a great, fantastic, warm welcome back for everyone, so can’t be happier that we’re home,” said CDR Baker, after the reunion.
LCDR James McMillan returned to his wife and three young daughters with VFA-31, “The Tomcatters.”
“I can’t think of too many words to describe it, but this is great. It’s been a long time,” he said.
Carrier Air Wing 8 Commander, Capt. Jim McCall, said it was a record-setting deployment. Aviators delivered more than 900 tons of ammunition, setting post-Desert Storm records for a CVN/CVW team, the Navy said.
“To see our young air crew and our young sailors go out and execute that mission every day, certainly I’m very proud of their effort and the accomplishments of the last seven months,” Capt. McCall said.
The Commander for Naval Air Force Atlantic, Adm. Bruce Lindsey, said the accomplishments of the air wing reflect how badly naval aviation is needed in the fight against terrorism.
Sailors with George H.W Bush Carrier Strike Group will be returning Monday to Norfolk.
Here’s a full rundown of Thursday and Friday’s homecomings (by squadron):
Two additional squadrons will be returning to Naval Station Mayport in Florida.