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Vinson, Sacramento inbound from Afghanistan

Of plans being made — tiny or huge — for the return of the USS Sacramento and Carl Vinson to Bremerton, one thing is certain. The homecoming will be red, white and blue.

Civilian and military organizers are emphasizing a patriotic welcome for the two ships, which have been deeply involved in the nation’s war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Sylvia Klatman, executive director of the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the nation will be watching Bremerton when the supply ship USS Sacramento (Jan. 21) and carrier USS Carl Vinson (Jan. 23) cruise through Rich Passage to their piers. The Carl Vinson has been on the national news so frequently, that up to 10,000 people, hordes of media, and several of the nation’s highest ranking politicians and military officers could greet the carrier. The Sacramento’s return will be huge as well — Bremerton has been its only homeport since it was commissioned in 1964.

“The rest of the country is looking at us,” Klatman said, after returning from a training conference in Tucson, Ariz. “They want to see how we welcome them home. It is not just a big deal for Bremerton, it is a big deal for the country.”

The chamber has already started a red, white and blue ribbon program on a moderate scale, and will soon ratchet up the patriotic plan.

Four Girl Scout troops (two each from Bremerton and Belfair) have prepared 1,000 ribbons that are available from Kitsap County chambers of commerce and businesses. For a list, check online at kitsapinfo.com or call the Bremerton Chamber at 479-3579.

Chamber member June Watterson ballyhooed the ribbon program on KOMO-TVs “Northwest Afternoon” on Jan. 8. Watterson had 31 people take part in the 15-second promo. The spot is likely to be re-aired as the ships cruise closer. Chamber phone lines and Watterson’s Web site were buried with requests about the promo.

Klatman said the Chamber will ask businesses throughout Bremerton to place ribbons everywhere.

“Not just small ribbons, we want big ribbons,” Klatman said.

The chamber is also preparing 4,500 “Welcome Home Kits” filled with gifts, coupons and certificates. After packing by local Boys Scouts, military aircraft will deliver them to the ships prior to homecoming.

The military and Chamber are sparing no hoopla in welcoming the ships.

EA-6B Prowler aircraft will overfly the arrival of both ships which will likely arrive on high tide around 11 a.m. both days. Local yacht clubs are planning a watery salute and line-up for the ships. On Jan. 18, the Washington state Senate will make a proclamation honoring the ships.

Huge banners are being purchased and will be strung at either the Naval Avenue gate or the Naval Station Bremerton parking garage.

The Navy is expecting a high-ranking VIP delegation to meet the returning vessels, but details (i.e. names) are sketchy. For information on the official Navy portion of the welcome home, call Naval Station Bremerton Public Affairs at 476-0444.

Because Naval Station Bremerton will only be open to military personnel, dependents and DoD employees on Jan. 21 and 23, the Navy and chamber urge the general public to witness the ships’ return from the Bremerton waterfront.

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