NORFOLK -- The USS Kearsarge loomed large along the pier as Navy Chief Petty Officer Daniel Jimenez Sr.'s family gathered close for a few last-minute selfies.
Instead of deployment tears, the family shared hugs and selfies pierside Monday morning. Jimenez was expected on board the amphibious assault ship early for a scheduled deployment of its ready group, which includes the Norfolk-based transport dock USS Arlington and the Mayport, Fla.-based dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry, to the Middle East and Europe.
Even with 19 years in the Navy, Dorothy Jimenez said her husband's deployments haven't gotten easier.
"They've been gone so long all year it just feels like another underway," she said.
Kearsarge spent two months last year in the Caribbean assisting with relief and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which decimated Puerto Rico. The ship returned last November and soon moved in to pre-deployment operations, Capt. Jason E. Rimmer, the ship's commanding officer said.
The deployment, which includes about 4,600 sailors and Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, came one day after the homecoming of the USS Harry S Truman Strike Group. The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which has been assisting in a humanitarian crisis in central and south America, is scheduled to return to Norfolk Tuesday.
Truman became the first to deploy under a new defense strategy meant to shake up the predictability of U.S. military forces for its adversaries. The carrier left Norfolk in April, returned in July for a port visit and left again in August, later joining a massive NATO training operation in the Arctic Circle. Whether the same sort of shake up is in Kearsarge's future remains to be seen.
"Our deployment schedule after today is really up to our fleet commander and the chain of command," Capt. Daniel S. Blackburn, ready group commander, said Monday.
Blackburn and Rimmer acknowledged the challenge of deploying during the holiday season. For about a third of Kearsarge's crew, Monday's deployment is their first. Rimmer wrote about that in a post on the ship's Facebook page Sunday.
"In this season of the year when emphasis is placed on spending time with family, I recognize the melancholy of an empty seat at the holiday table," he wrote.
While there may be empty seats at many holiday tables this year, Rimmer said an onboard holiday feast is planned.
"Everybody's got a tradition that they're not going to do this year," Rimmer said, as his wife, Amanda, and son, Grant, 18, stood nearby. "Nobody's here as an island. Everybody comes from somebody. There's parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, somebody at home is missing them. We recognize that."
Petty Officer 2nd Class Megan Anuci's snuggled her infant son, Leo, 18 months, on the pier Monday as extended family -- including her husband, Damian, father, grandparents and another son, Jack, 6 -- prepared for goodbyes. The family celebrated their Christmas in early December.
"We got a little tree," she said. "It was nice."
While this year's big gift in Jimenez's home might be the new Toyota Sequoia have gave his wife, Dorothy, an even greater one may come in the New Year, when the Navy chief returns home. The family, which includes sons Jamal, 22, Daniel Jr., 17, Jarrell, 12, and daughter, Juliet, 7, was mostly smiles Monday.
"He's the goofball in the family," Daniel Jr. said of his dad. "He just makes us laugh. We enjoy our time with him. He lights up the room."
This article is written by Courtney Mabeus from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.