Just in time for the holidays, three squadrons of jet fighters returned Monday after six months aboard the USS Nimitz.
Wives, children and family members cheered as the first squadron of Super Hornets flew over the hangar at Lemoore NAS and enveloped the airfield with the roar of jet engines – comforting if your loved one is due to land any minute now.
“This is like a wedding day and Christmas bundled into one,” said Magdalena Whaley, holding baby daughter Adaline, born after her pilot husband, Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Whaley, deployed. “This is the first time he’s going to meet the baby.”
The VFA-154 squadron landed first and the VFA-145 and VFA-147 squadrons soon followed. The pilots and officers assigned to the two-seater F/A-18F jet fighters of VFA-154 walked into an area of the hangar decorated with a Christmas tree and poinsettias.
But not before being rushed on the tarmac by their families when the aviators walked from the jets to the hangar.
Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Valdez was greeted by his wife and children Ana, 10, Ellie, 8, and Hudson, 5.
“They are definitely a little bit more grown up,” Valdez said. It was busy at home while he was gone: Ellie wore a cast from a broken arm, and Hudson had to have stitches three times.
“There’s no feeling like having your family complete again,” said his wife, Rebecca Valdez. “It’s better than your wedding day. The only thing that tops it is the birth of a child.”
The Valdez family has been at Lemoore for six years, but they are moving to Tennessee for Valdez’s new assignment. Lemoore has grown on them, Rebecca said: “We love the small-town feeling.”
First though, they’ll take time off around the holidays to be together as a family, Valdez said.
Amber D’Antonio waited for her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Louis D’Antonio, and was joined by her children Ryan, 17, Alexis, 8 and Emma, 6.
“We are going to enjoy this time together and that is about all,” D’Antonio said.
The figher jets flew from the Nimitz, which is still at sea. The Nimitz will dock in San Diego on Tuesday, and enlisted personnel will fly into Lemoore the same day.
The three squadrons are part of Carrier Air Wing 11 that flew missions for Operation Inherent Resolve from July to October, launching 1,322 sorties and dropping 904 pieces of ordnance in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations from the Indian Ocean, the Navy said.