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Sailors are a sight for sore eyes

“I’m over here! Can you see me?” Clarisse Dagdagan shouts as she spots her husband Edgardo as the Camden pulls into Pier Delta. Cay Asigancion, who Dagdagan has known since she was a young girl growing up with his daughter Julie, went with Dagdagan to greet her husband. Asigancion spent some time on the Camden himself, retiring as a Machinist’s Mate Master Chief in April 2002 after 30 years in the Navy. - Photo by rogerick Anas
“I’m over here! Can you see me?” Clarisse Dagdagan shouts as she spots her husband Edgardo as the Camden pulls into Pier Delta. Cay Asigancion, who Dagdagan has known since she was a young girl growing up with his daughter Julie, went with Dagdagan to greet her husband. Asigancion spent some time on the Camden himself, retiring as a Machinist’s Mate Master Chief in April 2002 after 30 years in the Navy.
— image credit: Photo by rogerick Anas

As family and friends of sailors aboard the USS Camden gathered to welcome home about 550 sailors after more than 285 days at sea, one word was used more than any other to sum up the emotions they were feeling: Excited.

“We were up all night,” Stella Ruiz said as she waited just outside the gates of Pier Delta inside Naval Station Bremerton on Monday morning.

Ruiz was bundled in a thick sweatshirt to ward off the cool morning air as she and daughter Alithia Gomez waited to greet Alithia’s husband, Carlos Gomez. Alithia and her two boys, Angel, 7, and Matthew, 6, last saw Carlos in July. Much has changed since last summer, including the family’s new home in Silverdale which Carlos had yet to see.

Carlos and the rest of the Camden crew were scheduled to end their deployment in January, but it was extended during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I’m gonna cry when the ship comes in,” Alithia Gomez said.

However, it was the 21 mothers whose babies came while their fathers were still at sea who seemed the most anxious.

“Has the ship come around the corner?” Glinda Tatum repeatedly asked her fellow new mothers gathered in a tent set up especially for them on the pier. Unable to see the water from where she sat positioning a bottle into the mouth of her suckling six-month-old, Bryana, Tatum’s fervency grew.

“I can’t even explain how excited I am right now,” Tatum said.

Bryana’s father, Seaman Gavin Langford, was aboard the Camden when she was born.

“He’s excited to see her, he can’t wait,” Tatum said. She was able to speak to Langford by phone for an hour on the day their first child was born and e-mailed him photographs of their daughter almost every other day since.

Clarisse Dagdagan could empathize.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, I couldn’t sleep the night before, the ship can’t get here fast enough,” she said. Wearing a red, white and blue star headpiece, Dagdagan held her two-and-a-half-month-old daughter Hope while keeping a close eye on her son, Amor, two years old.

She too knows what it’s like to give birth with a husband long gone on deployment.

“I was holding my mom’s hand in the delivery room and it should have been his hand,” Dagdagan said.

“I can’t wait for him to hold her,” she said.

Tatum and Dagdagan, along with various local dignitaries including Gov. Gary Locke, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, and county commissioners and dozens of media were among the first to see the bow of the Camden appear in the distance at around 8 a.m. And it wasn’t much longer before those waiting on the pier could begin to make out the sailors manning the rail in their dress whites, standing at attention aboard the ship nicknamed the “Powerful Pachyderm of the Pacific.”

The sight was majestic as the ship slowly approached.

“There he is!” screamed Debbie Mercer as she finally spotted her husband, Master Chief Danny Mercer. Danny, holding a single rose, waved back to his wife and family from the ship as Debbie shouted his name over and over again.

She was the lucky winner of the First Kiss raffle drawing.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Debbie said of learning she’d get the first kiss when the ship arrived. “I went nuts.”

Debbie was escorted up the brow once the ship docked and the kiss she and her husband of 21 years shared was met with shouts of approval from the crowd. It was the first of thousands to come as the rest of the Camden crew exited to greet their families.

Some of the most thrilling moments happened as the 21 new fathers aboard the Camden finally met their new sons and daughters.

“It’s like a dream, the best moment ever,” Langford said as he held his daughter Bryana for the first time. “She looks like me.”

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