5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONISIBILTY (NNS) -- As the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) anchored off the coast of Chennai, India ready to begin the harbor phase of Exercise Malabar 2017, Sailors aboard the Navy's oldest active aircraft carrier were making provisions to enjoy their first port call of the deployment.
Some Sailors booked hotels and tours, while others chose a more free-spirited approach to learning about the vast and rich Indian culture.
But for Logistics Specialist 1st Class Paramita Das, going to India meant more than just a port call. It meant returning to her native country and reuniting with her family.
"I was anxious to see my family and be back in my homeland," said Das. "I hadn't seen them in a while. My family is very proud of what I am doing and they look up to me."
In 2009, Das, age 27 at the time, left India when she took a job transfer to work at IBM in America. One year after her arrival in the U.S., she received the unfortunate news that she and 9m others were being laid off due to economic retention, thus ushering her into a career change as she and four of her friends decided to join the Navy.
"I was totally worried and scared," said Das. "First of all, English was not my first language. Secondly, I had no idea of how the Navy works. Now, I feel great that I joined. I have achieved a lot in these years. I have gotten my master's degree since I've been in the Navy, and I've gotten the chance to travel the whole world too."
Through the Navy's continued presence and partnerships in the Indo-Asia Pacific region, Das was now getting to experience something she hadn't previously imagined.
"I have heard ships going to Mumbai Naval Base, but I never thought that Nimitz would go to India and I would live the news," said Das.
Now, Das was doing just that, living the news. Thanks to an annual trilateral two-phase exercise between the Indian navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and U.S. Navy, Nimitz had come to India.
After about a 45-minute liberty boat ride to the shores of Chennai, luggage in tow, Das found herself traveling familiar territory in her homeland headed to meet her family.
The first thing on Das' agenda was to meet her uncle at a train station, and from there go reunite with her aunt and cousins.
"I was waiting at the train station for my uncle to come and pick me up," said Das. "I was waiting, waiting, waiting."
It had been six years since Das had last seen her uncle, and as she waited in the train station, she had a hunch about the man standing directly in front of her.
"I was thinking, I think that's my uncle," said Das. "So, I said 'boro mama,' which means elder uncle. He was right in front of me, and he didn't recognize me either. He'd grown old."
Basking in the joy of the revelation, Das and her uncle shared a warm embrace then headed off to reunite with the rest of the family - a reunion that would be just as surprising to Das.
"I thought I wouldn't cry, but I ended up crying," said Das. "It was very emotional. Everyone was crying. Those moments were the best."
Now in the company of the aunt and uncle who raised her and the cousins she grew up with, what was once deemed unimaginable to Das was now real as ever.
Das, born in Kolkata, India, a few hours south of Chennai, had traveled aboard a Navy warship across the breadth of the Pacific, through the Indian Ocean and reunited with her family in her homeland. The occasion couldn't have been more joyous for Das.
"I went back to India like three years back, but to see my parents who are in Kolkata, not Chennai," said Das. "So, I did not see my uncle and aunt who brought me up for seven years with my cousins. My cousins and I were raised by my uncle and aunt because my convent school was right by their house in Chennai. This time, I did get to see them and I am very happy."
Over the years, Das never forgot her aunt's cooking. In fact, she longed for it. So it came as a great joy when her aunt began ushering in the many dishes she had prepared.
"My aunt cooked a lot of Indian food for me," said Das. "Like every hour or so she was bringing something for me."
Das spent two days with her family catching up, reminiscing and enjoying being back in the presence of her loved ones.
"We just stayed home," said Das. "We did a little shopping, but mostly stayed home doing what's called adda, or chatting, over chai and snacks made by [my] aunt."
When it came time for Das to say goodbye, it wasn't a somber occasion; more bittersweet. There were hugs, talk of next time and well-wishes.
"They didn't cry," said Das. "They knew that I had duty. They said be happy with what you're doing and tell us what you need."
Returning to India was not only a joyous occasion for Das, it provided her the opportunity for her to suggest activities and trips to Nimitz's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR). She also sent out emails to the crew suggesting what to do, eat and buy while in India.
"I actually helped the [fun boss] with some information on the tours," said Das. "The tours that are planned for the port call are all the ones that I suggested."
As the Nimitz raised its anchor to get underway signifying a conclusion to the harbor phase of Malabar 2017 and a commencement of the at-sea portion, Das was back aboard Nimitz, forever grateful of the opportunity of having journeyed back to her native land.
"I love my motherland India with my whole heart," said Das. "I also love my country, the USA, which has given me a family, a home, work, education and a lot more in such few years."
Nimitz is currently deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in the region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce.
For more news from Nimitz Strike Group, visit http://www.nimitz.navy.mil/.
For more information, visit http://www.navy.mil, http://www.facebook.com/usnavy or http://www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from Navy Public Affairs Support Element, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/npasehq/.