At the Lemoore Naval Air Station on Tuesday, families and loved ones waited anxiously for the nine pilots they hadn’t seen in eight months.
For Mary Strecker, she got an extra gift she wasn’t expecting: an engagement ring.
Strecker waited alongside friends and family for Lt. Cmdr. John Hiltz, her boyfriend of four years.
Strecker said she misses Hiltz when he is on long deployments, but she tries to keep positive and keep herself busy. She works in marketing and is studying to get her master’s degree at Seattle University.
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“It’s not hard to focus on the positives, but eight months is a long time,” Strecker said. She kept in touch with Hiltz though email.
“Nothing is better than the sound of an email coming through,” Strecker said.
It was a different sound she yearned for Tuesday – the scream of an F/A-18E Super Hornet coming back.
The Strike Fighter Squadron 25 (VFA-25) was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman for the last several months. Hiltz and other members were fighting against ISIS forces in the Middle East.
Hiltz was part of Carrier Strike Group 8. Strike groups are usually deployed for six months, not eight. Deployment was extended to continue the fight against ISIS.
Hiltz deployed in November. The VFA-25 supported maritime security operations with the 5th and 6th Fleets, which have been sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.
As soon as Hiltz was reunited with Strecker, he immediately got on one knee.
He said he didn’t want to wait another minute to spend the rest of his life with Strecker, and proposed right there on the tarmac.
The answer: yes!
A beaming Strecker had “no idea this was coming.”
For the newly engaged couple, the next step is finding a home together.
Hiltz was similarly ecstatic. “She made me the happiest guy in the world today,” he said.