USS Oak Hill Returns to Virginia After Helping with Hurricane

Dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) transits the Gulf of Suez, after completing the passage of the Suez Canal. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 2nd Class Jeremy L. Grisham)
Dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) transits the Gulf of Suez, after completing the passage of the Suez Canal. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 2nd Class Jeremy L. Grisham)

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Chief Bobby Plunkett was playing video games with his family and planning for Labor Day weekend when he got the call after midnight.

He had to report for deployment on the USS Oak Hill.

"We thought it was a joke," he said. After learning it wasn't , he packed his sea bag and was ready to go.

But he didn't know he'd be gone for two months .

Plunkett was one of more than 300 sailors to deploy with the Oak Hill. The ship left Aug. 31, originally bound for Texas to help with Hurricane Harvey, a Navy news release said. Because of Hurricane Irma, followed shortly by Hurricane Maria, the crew was redirected to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The ship returned Sunday with families waiting at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek -- Fort Story in a light drizzle.

The crew of the Oak Hill initially helped with search and rescue, said Commander Nakia Cooper.

It later assisted with clearing roadways for transportation around the island for water, food, medicine and doctors.

"It was pure devastation," Cooper said, adding that the Oak Hill crew did its best to bring normalcy back to the victims.

"I can tell you with the devastation in Puerto Rico, it's going to be long time before they get back to normal."

Plunkett said the rural areas were covered by trees and debris, and it was hard to get transportation there. His duties during the relief efforts were dropping off food and water and providing assistance to medical personnel.

"He was proud," said Plunkett's wife, Farrah. "He liked what he was doing ... They were all very proud of what they were doing out there. They felt they were making a difference."

She admitted the past two months have been difficult for her family -- she and her husband have three children -- but said she understands it was for a good cause.

"It's the worst part of the job," Bobby Plunkett said. "Nobody likes leaving their family."

Reuniting with his wife and kids after deployments makes it worthwhile, he said.

Farrah admitted to having butterflies as she awaited her husband's arrival with her kids Sunday morning.

"Almost 20 years of marriage and it feels like the first time," she said. "No matter how long they've been in it never changes."

When she finally saw him after two months, she was at a loss for words.

"It was amazing."

--This article is written by Amir Vera from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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