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Families reunited as USS Nimitz returns home to Puget Sound after record-setting deployment

Sailors and Marines were aboard the USS Nimitz for 321 days when the carrier strike group finally returned home Thursday.

By the time the USS Nimitz and its carrier strike group returned home to Bremerton Thursday, its crew had been gone 321 days.

The Nimitz, along with the cruiser USS Princeton and the destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson, returned to the Puget Sound region after operations in U.S. Indo-Pacific command and U.S. Central command areas.

The carrier strike group provided support in the Persian Gulf and participated in maritime exercise Malabar 2020 alongside Indian, Australian and Japanese ships. It also participated in operations with the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Ronald Reagan strike groups.

Credit: Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet
Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) arrives Naval Air Station North Island, February 26. Nimitz Carrier Strike Group returned after a more than 10-month deployment to U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. 7th Fleet, which included freedom of navigation operations and participation in Operations Freedom’s Sentinel, Inherent Resolve and Octave Quartz. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Timothy Heaps)

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group had the longest deployment since the Vietnam War. The deployment was extended by COVID-19 protocols that called for quarantine. Though the Navy aims for approximate six-month deployments, the Nimitz was away for nearly twice that.

Overall, the carrier strike group steamed more than 87,300 nautical miles during its deployment. The carrier launched 10,185 sorties totaling 23,410 flight hours logged, according to the Navy.

RELATED: Pentagon keeps Bremerton-based USS Nimitz in Middle East, cites threats from Iran

Thursday was a long-overdue homecoming for the Nimitz crew and their families waiting back home. Kimberly Tovar’s husband was on that ship.

“We don’t know when they’re coming home," Tovar told KING 5. "Nobody knew. I’m pretty sure if you were to ask any other spouse, they would tell you that this deployment felt like they deployment with no return date."   

Her husband Joel Tovar is a second-generation sailor who left college early to enlist in the Navy. He was assigned to the Nimitz as part of a fleet deployed to the Middle East for what was supposed to be a six-month deployment.

While her husband was away, Kimberly continued her work as a nurse amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Having to see and experience all of those things and then not having my husband to come home to at the end of the day was really rough,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Nimitz crew spent holidays on the ship, took a call from President Biden during the Super Bowl rode out the pandemic while serving an important mission. By the time they returned to port, they logged the longest deployment since Vietnam. Their tour was extended by the coronavirus pandemic and rising tension between the U.S. and Iran.

“These sailors and marines gave it their all for nearly a year. Tirelessly answering the nation’s call again and again as they stood the watch for our nation and Navy,” said Rear Adm. James Kirk, commander of the Nimitz last week.

Kimberly could hardly believe the homecoming was real, “I think that’s why this time, even though I know they are already in the Sound, I still feel like they’re going to be like 'Psych, got you!' It’s not actually going to happen.” 

But the couple was happily reunited Thursday — two heroes, back at home.

Credit: Tovar family

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