Carrier Eisenhower home after split deployment

By Mike Hixenbaugh The Virginian-Pilot ©


Michelle Kirkpatrick climbed out of bed before sunrise, slipped on a        red, white and blue T-shirt and drove directly to Norfolk Naval Station.

She wasn’t going to miss her baby – not again.

Her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Kris Chrisp, was among thousands of        sailors who returned Wednesday following a long and complicated year        aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Kirkpatrick and her family – including Chrisp’s grandparents, niece and        girlfriend – had driven into town a day earlier. They checked out of the        hotel early and arrived at the pier by 8:30 Wednesday morning, a solid        six hours before the ship was scheduled to pull into port.

Seven months earlier, when the Ike returned for two months from the        first half of its unusual split deployment, Chrisp, 22, told his mom not        to worry about coming into town to meet him at the pier. Don’t make a        big fuss, he told her.

Kirkpatrick gave in and instead watched a live Internet feed of the        December homecoming from her home in Burlington, N.C. She strained to        spot her son among the crowd of white uniforms in the grainy Web feed.        She watched as hundreds of loved ones, many of them holding homemade        signs, hugged their sailors on the pier.

And she wept.

“I had tears streaming down my face, and I said, ‘Never again,’ ”        Kirkpatrick said. “I’ll never miss another one.”

The pier was mostly empty when Kirkpatrick showed up with her homemade        signs and lawn chairs.

Hours passed before the mammoth ship finally appeared on the horizon.        Kirkpatrick and others in the crowd screamed and waved. “Here he comes!”

A veteran military spouse sitting nearby shook her head. The first sight        of the ship is always a tease, she said, looking up from a newspaper.        “They won’t be off for a few more hours.”

Kirkpatrick was shocked two years ago when she got a call from a        recruiter informing her that her youngest son had decided to enlist in        the Navy. “Are we talking about the same Kris?” the mother asked.

She never imagined that her prankster son – the one who is scared to        drive over water on high bridges – would sign up for the armed services.        But she couldn’t be more proud.

“That’s a pretty sight right there,” Kirkpatrick said with a huge grin        as tugboats pushed the carrier into position along the pier.

Moments later, as crews worked to tie up the ship, Kirkpatrick answered        her cellphone.

“Hey, Baby, where are you at?”

Chrisp was among a crowd of sailors standing on the flight deck. His        mother tried to describe the family’s location on the pier.

“We’re down in the corner by all the news media. … You’re where? … We’re        under the huge red, white and blue umbrella. … Well, get down here!”

Then Kirkpatrick spotted him. He waved from the deck; she jumped up and        down and waved back. Although more than 100 yards separated them, the        mother said, she spotted her son when he smiled.

“That’s what he does,” said his grandmother, Sandra Po­teat. “Kris is        always smiling.”

Another hour passed before lower-ranking enlisted sailors were finally        allowed off the ship. Kirkpatrick stood tiptoe and searched the crowd as        husbands kissed wives and children went charging into the arms of        returning parents.

Finally, she spotted her 6-foot-4 baby boy. She leapt into the air and        waved. “Kris! Kris! Kris!”

He smirked as he casually walked toward his frantic mother – who, to        welcome him home, had bought 100 freeze pops, because “my boy loves        Popsicles.”

Chrisp gave his mother a hug and – even if she did go just a bit        overboard – he told her he was happy she came:

“It’s good to be home.”

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