Petty Officer 1st Class Ixchel Mattes is a hospital corpsman aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. She will miss her son’s eighth birthday on Thursday, but she’ll be there to give him his birthday present one day late when she gives him a hug on the pier for the first time in eight months.
The Stennis is expected to return to its homeport in Bremerton Friday. It dropped off members of its air wing earlier this week in San Diego before heading out for the final leg of its trip.
The ship has been deployed to the fifth and seventh Fleet areas of responsibilities — the Middle East and Persian Gulf and western Pacific Ocean respectively. It was sent out early last September just four months after returning from its previous tour of duty.
Secretary of Defense at the time, Leon Panetta, ordered the deployment to keep a multi-carrier presence in the Gulf region.
The Stennis has been deployed for 21 of the last 24 months.
During the ship’s home stand, it was actually sent out multiple times on short-term exercises — so sailors were actually home for no more than six weeks over the course of those few months the boat was not deployed, according to the ship’s personnel officer.
“(It’s been) long, very long, but it was also very successful,” said corpsman Mattes. “We managed to get a lot accomplished in the time that we were out here.”
Mattes said her husband, Ivan, and two kids, Gabriel, 8, and May, 2, are waiting for her arrival in Bremerton. She was only able to video chat with her family four or five times over the last eight months Mattes said. For the most part she relied on email — lots of email.
“It’s wonderful to be coming home,” said Stennis commanding officer Capt. Ron Reis in a press release. “A lot has been asked of these sailors and their families, but I am very proud of what they have accomplished.”
The Stennis was deployed as part of Strike Group Three and was joined in its deployment by the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay.
While on its most recent deployment to the Middle East, the Stennis and its strike group assisted U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan with air cover.
Aircraft from the Stennis logged more than 27,000 flight hours during more than 11,000 sorties throughout the deployment.
While in the western Pacific, the Stennis performed service projects and hosted military and civilian diplomats with allied nations in the region.
“It’s always an honor to engage with our partners in the region,” Reis said.
During its previous deployment the Stennis made news multiple times. In Jan. 2012, Iran warned U.S. ships to leave the Persian Gulf but the Stennis carried on as scheduled. The strike group made news a few days later when it rescued about a dozen Iranian sailors who had been held by Somali Pirates.
The Stennis stayed relatively silent on its most recent deployment. The only big news to come out of the strike group was the removal mid-deployment of its former commander, Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette.
Gaouette was removed from command in October after serving as strike group commander for only about six months. In March the former commander was officially reprimanded by the Navy when he was given a “non punitive letter of caution” and the investigative report was ordered to be put in his service record.
Following Gaouette’s removal, Rear Adm. Troy M. Shoemaker was appointed and continues to act as commander of Strike Group Three.
“I could not be more proud of the strike group Sailors and what they accomplished,” said Rear Adm. Shoemaker, in anticipation of the strike group’s return. “Eight months ago, they answered our nation’s call to deploy, and successfully executed every mission asked of them.”
When the Stennis pulls slowly into port in Bremerton on Friday, thousands of Sailors will be reunited with their friends and loved ones.
As for corpsman Mattes, she said if her family were standing in front of her right now she would tell them, this time, she’s going to be home for a while.