Hampton Roads Sailors from Bataan Group Return from 8-Month Deployment

USS Bataan returns to Naval Station Norfolk following an eight and a half-month deployment
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), assigned to the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), returns to Naval Station Norfolk following an eight and a half-month deployment operating in the U.S. 5th and U.S. 6th Fleet areas of operation, March 21, 2024. (Anderson W. Branch/U.S. Navy)

“Let’s go home,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Marquez Martinez said while adjusting his sea bag on his shoulder.

“Yes, let’s go,” beamed wife Katarina Martinez, toting 8-month-old Alaina on her hip while 2-year-old Mason sat in the stroller. The kids donned star-spangled pants that complemented their father’s dress blues.

Martinez, an information systems technician, was one of 1,000 sailors welcomed home Thursday from the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group following an extended eight-month deployment to the Middle East. The group included assault ship USS Bataan, which pulled into port Thursday at Naval Station Norfolk, and dock landing ship USS Carter Hall, which returned to its homeport of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach. Transport dock USS Mesa Verde, homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, returns Friday.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed with the Bataan group July 10 from Hampton Roads to create an interoperable force capable of storming foreign shores. The rapid response Marine force returned home to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The mission for this deployment was all about presence.

“It just means we are here and that reassured our allies and partner nations,” Capt. Paul Burkhart, commanding officer of the Bataan, said after disembarking the ship.

Less than two weeks after the group deployed, the Bataan and Carter Hall were ordered to sail to the Middle East to bolster maritime security. After roughly four months of deterring aggression, the Department of Defense sent the Bataan group toward Israel following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, long designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. The Bataan and Carter Hall operated in the Red Sea before later rejoining the Mesa Verde in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Bataan group participated in Operation Prosperity Guardian, a U.S.-led multinational security task force formed in December to respond to increased Iranian-backed Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

“It’s all about contingency response — special operations that we see are necessary in today’s world to do the wide variety of missions, specifically in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of Norfolk-based U.S. Fleet Forces.

In recent months, merchant vessels and military ships traveling through the Suez Canal have been the target of attack drones and anti-ship missiles launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen, U.S. military officials said. The Houthis had at times targeted ships in the region, but the attacks have increased since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, The Associated Press reported. A number of commercial ships have been struck since December.

‘Debt of gratitude’: Secretary of Navy visits Ford sailors at sea ahead of their return to Norfolk

“Our Navy and Marine Corps team remains a key contributor to maintaining maritime safety, security and global stability, and we remain committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in international waters,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said.

Del Toro and wife Betty were among the crowd welcoming the Bataan sailors at Naval Station Norfolk. Before sailors disembarked the assault ship, Del Toro mingled with families and cradled children — including offering Alaina Martinez a challenge coin.

“Don’t eat it,” Del Toro said with a laugh.

The Bataan task force was due to return in January but its time at sea was extended by about two months. The families shouldered the burdens of daily life, Del Toro said, while the sailors and Marines were away longer than expected.

“While these last 255 days have certainly not been easy for them (the families), I am forever grateful to them for keeping the faith and for believing that their family sacrifices and defense of their fellow Americans was worth it,” Del Toro said.

The extended deployment meant Petty Officer 2nd Class Kareem Moore, an aviation boatswain’s mate, missed the birth of daughter Kinsley-Rae. The 5-week-old, born Feb. 11, snuggled in her mother’s arms moments before meeting her dad.

“We were devastated. He has missed the birth of both our children because of deployments,” mother and wife Kimberly Moore said as she motioned to Kareem Jr., 7.

Down the pier, Sadie Potter, 20, waved to sailors standing at the bow of the assault ship as she looked for Petty Officer 3rd Class Brennon Potter — her husband an an electronics technician. Their daughter, 11-month-old Hailey, slept soundly swaddled against Sadie‘s chest despite the pomp and circumstance.

The baby was just 3 months old when Brennon departed. His deployment, coupled with training at sea months prior, meant he has only spent around two weeks with his daughter, Sadie said.

Smiling as she wiped her daughter’s nose, the mother said, “We are excited to be a family for the first time.”

©2024 The Virginian-Pilot. Visit pilotonline.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Story Continues