story & photos
by Josie Kapral
Balloons hung by the living room window of Rachael and Russell Kropp: one for every holiday and special occasion that he missed over the last six months. Family members gathered from Bostonand Pittsburgh for what would be his last deployment with the USS New Hampshire, a Virginiaclass submarine out of the Navy Base at Groton. Streamers in red, white and blue hung in the doorways ready to greet him when he came home.
“I am so excited just talking about it,” Rachael Kropp said, “We’ve been through so much over the last five years”
They were not the only ones. Several family members of the 130 sailors onboard the submarine met at the Base to watch it make its first appearance in months on the Thames River. Navy wives and girlfriends were dressed up and ready with their signs welcoming their boys home. It was truly a very special occasion for so many people. Colton Newman, age four, stood with his mother, Ashley Newman, and little sister, Paisley Newman as he held his sign that was nearly as tall as he was telling everyone that his dad, TM3 Aaron Newman,was coming home and it was his birthday!
As the USS New Hampshire began to pull into the dock, the winners of “The First Hug” and “First Kiss” categories came to the pier. Five year old Colin Culbertson, and his mother waited for the moment they could finally hug Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Culbertson. Brittany Shaner, winner of the first kiss stood anxiously on the dock trying to get a glimpse of her husband, Petty Officer Aaron Shaner. The winner of the first kiss was selected by raffle tickets.
“Last year I waited six hours for him to come off the boat. I wasn’t going to wait this year, so I bought a lot of raffle tickets!” Shaner smiled. When her moment arrived, she ran down the pier to her husband who was carrying a rose and got the kiss she had been waiting for for months. She ran so fast, she left her shoes behind her on the pier.
Shortly after, the gates opened on the pier and the crowd of people that had been waiting in the rain were finally allowed onto the pier to greet their loved ones. It was a beautifully emotional scene. The Myers children, Ally and Maddie jumped into their dad, STS1 Jeremy Myers’ arms and smiled as their parents, Jeremy and Emily smiled at each other.
“We are so happy to finally have our family back together, it’s been a long deployment. I am so proud of all the sailors and families…together we are six months stronger!” said Emily Myers. She and her husband, Jeremy were also celebrating birthdays this week.
Across the pier was another happy little girl, Grace Benton who was squeezing her dad, STSC (SS) Robert Benton’s neck so tight as if to make sure he was not going to leave again any time soon.
Moments like these make you really realize what a sacrifice the families also make for their loved ones. While the USS New Hampshire was deployed, these families were all celebrating much like the Kropps. There was an empty seat at the dinner table. There was one less at Fourth of July. Birthdays and special holidays are often celebrated on a different day even months and months later. However, there is one day is always celebrated on the same day and that is homecoming. And for these families, this was that day.