A cloudy sky gave way to bright smiles and warm cheers April 13 as friends and family welcomed the crew of Virginia-class attack submarine USS Virginia (SSN 774) back to Submarine Base New London after a six-month deployment.
As the Virginia-class attack submarine came into view passing under the Thames River Bridge, anxious spouses and children strained to see if they could spot their Sailor topside preparing to moor.
Emily Szolwinski, of Milwaukee, Wis., won the traditional "first kiss." While waiting to see her husband, Electronics Technician Seaman (SS) Maximilian Szolwinski, she said the hardest part of being without her husband was doing without his sense of humor.
"I missed his smile most. But, I also learned I could overcome a lot of obstacles too," she said. "The Navy family helped me stay strong."
Her husband said that his friends and shipmates helped him keep a positive attitude, and now it’s time to enjoy sleeping in for a day or two.
"We worked hard, and now I just want to spend as much time with my family as I can," he said.
Deploying Oct. 15, 2009, Virginia spent the last six months conducting operations in the U.S. European and Central Command areas of responsibility.
The crew made port calls in Rota, Spain; Souhda Bay, Greece; Fujahra, United Arab Emirates; and Aksaz, Turkey where Sailors got the opportunity to experience the local culture and serve as goodwill ambassadors for the U.S. and the Navy.
Cmdr. Jim Waters, III, Virginia’s commanding officer, said the crew traveled more than 37,000 miles during the first major deployment for a Virginia-class submarine.
"We operated in all kinds of environments without incident," said Waters. "The work the designers put into this ship has proven itself time and time again. This experience has helped to seal the team in an amazing way."
"This is a monumental day," according to Capt. Michael Bernacchi, commodore of Submarine Squadron Four, which includes Virginia. "I think this is a real transition as it marks the change from Virginia being a new boat to Virginia being a workhorse."
After some well-deserved rest and relaxation for the crew, Virginia will resume maintenance and training in preparation for future operations.
Virginia is the first in her class of the technologically-advanced attack submarines. She was commissioned Oct. 23, 2004 and is the sixth U.S. Navy vessel to bear the name of the first English colony and the 10th American state.
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