By KERRY M. FLYNN
Special to The Day
Groton — After six months aboard the USS New Mexico (SSN 779), MM2 2nd class Jerrel Revels stepped onto Pier 31 at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton Monday afternoon, took to one knee, and proposed to his partner, Dylan Kirchner.
The proposal comes two years after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" — the U.S. military's ban on openly gay service members passed in 1993.
Revels, originally from Texas, met Kirchner, of Plainfield, through mutual friends last September.
"It kind of tickled my mind every now and then that (he would propose) but I never expected this," Kirchner said. "I didn't really care everbody was around. It felt just like the two of us."
The couple, who have not yet set a date for their wedding, were amid a crowd of more than 200 relatives and friends who were on hand to greet the returning crew. After departing from the submarine base on Feb. 13, the New Mexico transited more than 34,000 miles in the European region, stopping at Norway, Scotland and Spain.
The deployment was the first for the vessel as well as for 70 percent of the boat's 132-man crew, whose median age was 20.
Chief of the Boat Steven Fritzler said he was "astounded" with the diligence and hard work of the newcomer crew.
"Attitude and enthusiasm goes a long way," said Cmdr. George Perez.
STS3 Zachary King, who was on his first sub deployment, grinned while in a circle with his family and friends as he joked about the rainy weather in Scotland and times watching movies and playing video games with his shipmates.
"I was pretty excited about [the deployment]. I loved pulling into the ports of call," said King, who now plans some rest and relaxation before his next assignment.
The first crew members off the boat were cheered on for the traditional "first kiss" and "first hug." Since none of the crew had missed a birth of one of their children over the past six months, Marlaina Malone greeted her husband at the pier with their daughter — the youngest baby before deployment.
"She just started saying 'Da-da' this week," said Malone, as she clutched her 8-month-old, Molly, adorned in a red, white, and blue headband.
Fritzler will remain with the New Mexico for its second deployment, expected early next year, but Perez will pass on command at a ceremony aboard the vessel Aug. 30.
Although Deidra Burke won the first hug through a random drawing, her oldest sons, Isaac and Ethan, were there first to welcome their father, Electrician Mate First Class Jason Burke, home while she held on to their sleeping youngest son, Owen.
It was Burke's third deployment but the first in which she was left with all three sons.
"It's wonderful to have him home but I kept the boys busy," Deidra said. "I think we'll go to Hershey Park."