Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

The Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe was a joyful site yesterday with the homecoming of Patrol Squadron Nine. Among those getting a huge welcome reception was Chief Petty Officer Duane Johnston, being greeted by his wife, Cathy, and children, Hunter, 9, left, Travis, 10, and Ashton, 7.

Kaneohe welcomes
Navy’s Golden
Eagles home

The patrol squadron completes
a busy 6-month deployment
over the Persian Gulf

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Nearly seven months ago, when 400 members of Golden Eagles VP-9 left Kaneohe Bay on a routine six-month Western Pacific deployment, America was a different place.

That all changed when terrorists hijacked commercial jets and rammed them into the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11.

The 12 P-3C Orion subhunter planes from Patrol and Reconnaissance Force Pacific ended up flying 7,500 surveillance and other maritime patrols as part of "Enduring Freedom," America's first war of the 21st century.

Yesterday, the unit was welcomed home with a ceremony at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay.

Cmdr. Robert Lally, Patrol Squadron Nine's (VP-9) commander, said his unit "flew more hours in this deployment than any other maritime squadron since the Vietnam War."

Lally's squadron was stationed in three locations -- Bahrain, Masirah Oman, and Diego Garcia -- from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf.

"We averaged 175 hours in the air a month," said Lally, who assumed command the of the Kaneohe Bay unit in July and has been on seven deployments.

Lally himself was on Diego Garcia where he watched the events of Sept. 11 unfold via cable television.

"We were in shock," said Lally, who has been in the Navy for nearly 20 years. "But we were ready and the next day I was back in the desert."

Patrol Squadron Nine touched down at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, yesterday. The family of flight engineer Mark Mason waved flags and cheered as the plane approached the hangar. Mason's daughter, 7-year-old Lauren, left, his wife, October, and his other daughter, 2-year-old Lindsey, were all smiles.

Minutes after Lally's P-3 pulled up to the hangar area for yesterday's homecoming ceremonies, Rear Adm. Anthony Winns, commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Force Pacific, called the Golden Eagles a "key surveillance asset" in the war against terrorism.

"VP-9's 'eyes on target' provided force protection for our troops on the ground, aircraft over the target and ships in the littoral," Winns said.

The unit also participated in two Pacific search and rescue operations involving sailors who fell overboard from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and the Pearl Harbor-based destroyer USS Russell.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Winns said the Golden Eagles provided images of al-Qaida and Taliban targets in Afghanistan as part of their surveillance missions.

The Golden Eagles also were involved in the stopping of 40 vessels believed to be smuggling contraband, "the diversion of hundreds of million dollars of illicit oil," in enforcing UN sanctions against Iraq, Winns added.

In memory of the fallen New York City law enforcement and firefighters, several Golden Eagle squadron members, like Lt. Cmdr. Andy McCartin, wore New York police and fire department patches on the right shoulders of their tan flight suits.

"It's good to be home," said McCartin, surrounded by his wife, Val, and their two children, Tyler, 10, and Shane, 7. "This is what it's all about. This is why you go away, so you can come home to this."

Peggy Acevedo, wife of Senior Chief Angel Acevedo, said that "this was the roughest deployment, knowing he was in the war."

Her husband, who completed his sixth deployment, said "the contingency made it longer this time."

Cathy Johnston said this deployment seemed even longer than the three others her husband, Duane, has been on. "It was much harder since this will be his last one."

"There were long periods when we couldn't talk to each other," said Duane Johnston. Travis Johnston, the couple's 10-year-son, chimed in: "long; almost six and half to seven months."

Minutes earlier, Travis, clutching a small American flag, and other friends and family members of VP-9 along with the Marine Corps Band and Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris cheered as Lally's P-3 did a fly-by of the hangar at the edge of the bay before landing.

Ashton Johnston, 7, cried out "Daddy. It's daddy," as the plane roared overhead dipping its wings several times.

Cathy Johnston said she and her family plan to hit every beach on Oahu before they fly to San Diego to spend Christmas with relatives.

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