Suzannah Claire Perry
The sailors of the carrier George H.W. Bush — Avengers, named for the plane the late president flew during World War II — crowded on the rails in dress whites, blue coveralls and camo-printed Navy Work Uniforms as the ship departed Wednesday afternoon.
It begins a seven-month tour as part of a strike group that includes guided-missile destroyers USS Truxtun, USS Delbert D. Black and USS Farragut and guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf that will relieve the Norfolk-based USS Harry S. Truman.
Many sailors left behind family members waving mini-American flags and homemade signs.
Matilyn Sommerfeldt, the mother of 2-year-old Willow with a second baby due next month, came to the security buffer to wave goodbye to husband Brendan. This is the couple’s first deployment.
“I told my husband it’s just like a Band-Aid,” Sommerfeldt said. “You just have to rip it off. They go, but then they’ll be back.”
She wasn’t sure whether Willow understood that her dad wouldn’t come home with them Wednesday night. But the couple made a teddy bear with Brendan’s voice, and recordings of him reading story books. The couple plan to talk whenever they can, especially once the baby arrives.
“When he comes back from deployment, we’ll be holding signs like ‘Has somebody seen my daddy?’ and ‘Does anybody know who my daddy is,’” said Jody Sommerfeldt, Brendan’s mother.
Wearing red, white and blue, Brendan’s grandmother has been around the block. His grandfather served over 21 years in the Navy.
“You need to stick together, as Navy families, as physical families,” Nellie Cardaugh said. “I think it’s awesome that they now have Facebook and those sorts of things. We had snail mail!”
Jody Sommerfeldt, who has deep connections within the military community through friends and relatives, said maintaining morale and mental health is one of her main concerns for sailors like her son and the families they leave behind.
Rear Admiral Dennis Velez, the carrier strike group’s commander, said mental health was a priority for this carrier group. A psychologist is onboard the Bush, and the staff organizes activities such as movie nights and prioritizes communication with loved ones.
Sitting under a USO tent full of military families, Girl Scout cookies and raspberry tea, Jen Pollard, the wife of Capt. David-Tavis M. Pollard, reflected on her family’s 11th deployment. While mental health for deployment sailors has received more attention in the past few years, families often need support throughout the deployment process, she said. With the help of organizations like the USO, military families create their own community and support their sailors in the process.
“That’s the key. That’s the key, is having good networking and resources for families, as well as the sailors on the ship,” Pollard said. “That’s is the key to a successful deployment, and good morale, and welfare, and mental health. I know they’re doing a lot of things for the ship for that, which is great.”
As the last line was untied from the bollard, families cheered and waved tiny American flags, as soldiers waved their hats from above.
“Under way shift colors.”
Sailors moved the American flag from the fantail to the ship’s mast. In about seven months, they’ll be mooring it at home again.