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Friday, April 11, 2003



[ WAR IN IRAQ ]



art
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Joelle Yamada made her way through a potluck dinner held last night at the Pearl Harbor chapel for family members of destroyer USS Paul Hamilton. The ship is finally returning to Oahu after nearly nine months at sea.




Hawaii sailors
head home from
war zone

The USS Paul Hamilton
is one of three returning
Pearl Harbor-based vessels


By Gregg K. Kakesako
gkakesako@starbulletin.com

On Joelle Yamada's tiny digital wristwatch, there are two elapse timers which slowly tick off the days -- 252 days since her husband left Pearl Harbor and 307 days since she said, "I do."

Joelle Yamada's husband is Petty Officer Brent Yamada, one of 322 sailors on the destroyer USS Paul Hamilton, which left the Persian Gulf earlier this week after launching Tomahawk missiles at Iraq during the opening moments of the war.

Joelle Yamada and other spouses and family members officially got the word yesterday that the destroyer, which left Pearl Harbor on Aug. 2, was finally homeward-bound. Paul Hamilton is one of three Pearl Harbor-based vessels that are heading home from the Persian Gulf.

"It's just a relief to know that he is safe. ... I think we're just blessed that they are coming home since there are people still out there fighting and getting killed," she said.

Donna Holder, whose husband, Petty Officer Matthew Holder, works with Brent Yamada as a sonar technician on the Paul Hamilton, said since the destroyer left Pearl Harbor last summer, a dozen babies have been born to crew members' families.

"Five were born in December alone," she said.

Denise Draa said Pearl Harbor is ready to give frigate USS Reuben James a royal Hawaiian welcome when it pulls into Pearl Harbor with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft-carrier battle group near the end of the month.

Draa, who served in the Navy for 14 years before she became a Navy wife, said after this extended deployment, she has "a new respect for anyone who is a Navy spouse. You have to be both father and mother. ... You have to pick and leave and go where the Navy sends you. ... I am extremely proud of what my husband has been doing."

Draa's husband, Petty Officer Michael Draa, is a boatswain's mate on Reuben James and has been in the Navy for 14 years.

Lincoln and its flotilla of seven warships, including Reuben James and Paul Hamilton, just completed one of the longest naval deployments since the Vietnam War.

Lincoln, with its squadron of the Navy's newest strike fighter, the F-18E/F Super Hornets, flew more than 1,500 combat sorties against targets in Iraq during the first 17 days of the war. It was relieved in the Persian Gulf by the USS Nimitz carrier battle group.

Three aircraft carriers now remain in the Persian Gulf: USS Nimitz, USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation.

Also expected back from Persian Gulf duty will be USS Cheyenne, a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine based at Pearl Harbor. Cheyenne joined coalition forces in launching Tomahawk missiles last month in the opening salvos of the war.

David Robinson, the only male spouse among Paul Hamilton's 173 married couples, said he talked to his wife, Ensign Latisha Robinson, by phone about four weeks ago.

Since then they have kept in touch by e-mails. "We try not to talk about our jobs," said David Robinson, who is a college student majoring in psychology. "It's more personal communication."

Draa said the family members of the Reuben James are working on a large banner that will bear a blue star for each of the crew members. "When they leave the ship after this deployment," said Draa, "they will be able to take their star with them."

Joelle Yamada is just hoping for "a second honeymoon ... maybe on Kauai" to celebrate their first wedding anniversary on June 8.



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