Thousands of sailors are in San Diego after completing the longest carrier deployment since the end of the Cold War.
The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln arrived at Naval Air Station North Island on Monday, marking the end to a 295-day round-the-globe deployment. The flattop deployed from Virginia on April 1 as part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group.
The carrier spent about seven months in the Middle East after the strike group was ordered to the region to temper Iranian aggression in May. Its deployment was extended several times as the Navy worked to repair a broken carrier that was set to replace it.
Families told Military.com more than seven months into the carrier's deployment that multiple extensions were taking a toll. They not only missed their loved ones on Halloween, when they were supposed to return, but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.
Many also carried out cross-country moves without their sailors as the ship's homeport moved from Virginia to California.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday last week defended the decision to keep the Lincoln at sea much longer than planned. Several factors contributed to the decision, he said at the annual Surface Navy Association meeting outside Washington.
"That's sometimes how it goes," the CNO said. "I don't make any apologies for that. … If I had a better solution, I would've offered it."
With some families worried the Lincoln crew's experience could become the new norm as the Navy shakes up its deployments with harder-to-predict schedules, the carrier's commanding officer said they should not assume they'll have the same experience.
"This certainly was outside what anybody would characterize as normal," Capt. Walter Slaughter told Military.com as the carrier headed back toward the U.S. "There were extraordinary circumstances."
Rear Adm. Michael Boyle, Carrier Strike Group 12's commander, said in a statement that the carrier strike group's presence made a difference in some of the world's most critical waterways, "deterring aggression through strength and readiness."
The ships traveled more than 64,000 nautical miles since April, including transits through several choke points, such as the straits of Gibraltar and Hormuz and the Suez Canal.
"They can return home knowing that their service to our Navy and our nation made a positive difference," Boyle said.
Slaughter said tensions were high when the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group arrived in the Middle East in May. That started to decrease as time went on, he said.
"Having a carrier strike [group] on station certainly is a message that we're concerned about what's going on in that part of the world," he said.
The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group replaced the Lincoln in the region.