Petty Officer James Turner kissed his wife, Theresa, yesterday after she won a raffle to be the first Navy wife to greet the crew of the returning USS Reuben James at Pearl Harbor. The frigate shadowed the USS Abraham Lincoln during the Iraq war.

Frigate returns to Hawaii
after carrier escort duty

USS Reuben James seized oil
and other illegal cargo from Iraq

Theresa Turner was downright nervous.

It wasn't just because she hadn't seen her husband, Navy Petty Officer James Turner, for 268 days.

She had also lost 117 pounds because of a medical condition since she last saw him when his ship, the frigate USS Reuben James, steamed out of Pearl Harbor on Aug. 2.

"Now I am wondering if he's going to recognize me," Turner said nervously as she and more than 100 other spouses, family members and friends waited on Pearl Harbor's Bravo pier yesterday for the Reuben James and its crew of 250 sailors to come home from the Persian Gulf.

The Reuben James' return ended one of the Navy's largest homecoming festivities at Pearl Harbor since the close of the Vietnam War 30 years ago. Over the past week there were emotional homecomings as three warships returned. Yesterday the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln left Hawaii after a 24-hour layover on its way to Everett Naval Station in Washington.

Pearl Harbor-based vessels still deployed are the destroyer USS O'Kane and the nuclear submarines USS Columbia, USS Louisville and USS Key West, all of which fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at Iraq last month.

Although the Reuben James did not fire any missiles, its contributions were significant, Navy leaders said.

Capt. Philip Greene, who commands the six warships of Destroyer Squadron 31, including the Reuben James, said the frigate performed escort operations in the Gulf of Oman before the war with Iraq started, supporting 26 vessels carrying heavy Army equipment through the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf from the Indian Ocean.

"When the war started, she was brought up to the 'shotgun,' which is the protection for the aircraft carrier.

"So she spent all of the war very close to the (carrier) Abe Lincoln, protecting the Abraham Lincoln from possible surface and air threats."

Also returning home yesterday were two SH-60B Seahawk helicopters and their crew of 25, who belong to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 37, based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay. The unit, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Quiett, was attached to the frigate.

Cmdr. Ed Lester, the Reuben James' skipper, acknowledged that there was a dip in the ship's morale when "it was only a couple of weeks away from home and then they turn you around." It was on New Year's Day that Lester was told that the preparations for war in Iraq would prolong the Reuben James' homecoming.

"That was a little bit hard to take," said Lester, "but the guys regrouped really quickly. They knew what was important, and they are all happy that they were a part of it."

While in the Persian Gulf, Lester said, his ship participated in 110 boardings and found illegal shipments of oil and dates that were being smuggled out of Iraq, as well as contraband military equipment.

Patti Myers said if it weren't for e-mail, her husband, Chief Petty Officer Ron Myers, would not recognize his daughter, Grace, who was 10 weeks old when he left last summer.

"Thank goodness for e-mail," she said. "I sent him photos by e-mail twice a week."

Theresa Turner said although her husband has been through at least five major deployments during the 13 years they have known each other, "this was probably the hardest for me since I was by myself and had to undergo surgery."

"Nine months," she added. "That's way too long. His other deployments were six months, and that's including the Gulf War."

A few minutes later, Theresa Turner climbed the ship's brow to receive the traditional "first kiss."

"I am very happy, very happy," her husband later proclaimed, acknowledging that he had no problem recognizing his wife.

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