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Groton — Waiting near the pier for the submarine USS Missouri to return, Genevieve Cavanaugh was planning to put a large bow on her husband's head and ask him to sit by their Christmas tree at home. His safe return from a six-month deployment, she said, is the only present she wants.
"I'm set for Christmas," Cavanaugh said Friday while awaiting the Missouri's return to the Naval Submarine Base. She pushed a stroller holding her 5-day-old daughter, Ea Christine, and 16-month-old son, Arrell Flynn.
Cavanaugh said she was on the verge of tears just thinking about her husband, Arrell, a machinist's mate on the Missouri, meeting Ea and seeing Arrell Flynn walk for the first time.
The Missouri (SSN 780), a new Virginia-class submarine, returned to the base Friday from its maiden six-month deployment, bringing more than 130 officers and sailors home in time for the holidays.
Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry, commander of Submarine Group Two, said Cmdr. Michael D. Luckett, Missouri's commanding officer, and his crew completed key and sensitive missions and participated in important exercises with allies in the European theater. "From the operational side, the exercises, visiting the various countries during the deployment, and of course, the special time of year to be coming home and rejoining their families, it was just a very successful deployment," he said. "I'm happy to welcome them home."
The children in the crowd quickly noticed a distinguished visitor standing atop the hull — Santa Claus. Reese Clark, 6, asked her mother if the man, who did not have Santa's distinctive round belly, was actually Santa. "It's Santa's representative," Suzanne Clark, wife of Master Chief Ronald Clark, the chief of the boat, said with a laugh.
Luckett said Santa met the crew on the Thames River since his sleigh could land topside. He said he was glad to be home after an outstanding, and, at times, challenging deployment.
The newest Virginia-class submarine to deploy, the Missouri was given some of the tougher missions, Luckett said, but the crew pulled together and accomplished everything "through teamwork and tenacity."
One of the first sailors off the submarine, Arrell Cavanaugh quickly found his family and cradled his daughter in his arms. "She's beautiful," he said. "She's so little. I don't want to break her."
Ea was born Dec. 15 at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces.
A large group anxiously waited to see Senior Chief Kellen Voland. High school sweethearts Voland and his wife, Laura, graduated from Robert E. Fitch Senior High School in 2002. Laura Voland teaches fourth grade at Claude Chester Elementary School and her father, Tom Kiely, works for Electric Boat. The couple has two daughters and lives in Ledyard.
"We're all very excited," said Laura Voland.
"To say the least!" added Kellen Voland's mother, Margaret.
His father, Kurt, said having Kellen home for the holidays is "the best Christmas present."
"We're obviously very, very proud of him," he said.
After Kellen Voland reunited with his family, he said, "Seeing my girls makes it all worth it."
"Coming from this area, we grew up with this all the time," he said. "To be a part of it is really special."
The Missouri was one of eight attack submarines on the East Coast that left for a six-month deployment in 2013. After heading for the European theater on June 18, the submarine made port calls in Norway, Scotland and England.
Three Submarine Group Two boats will remain at sea during the holidays, the Groton-based USS Virginia and USS San Juan, and the Norfolk, Va.-based USS Scranton.
The maiden deployment for the Missouri was also the first for many of the sailors, including Adam Brackston, an electronics technician. His mother, Chris, attempted to surprise him by traveling from Florida to attend the homecoming. She said she couldn't miss it.
Her surprise was somewhat foiled by the submarine's periscope, since Adam Brackston spotted his mother on the pier, taking pictures of the Missouri with her iPad. He said he felt slightly unprepared and overwhelmed. "I would've tried to get a haircut if I knew she was coming," he said.
Tyler Schneider, an electronics technician, embraced his wife, Leigh, and lifted her in the air. The couple planned to get engaged after the deployment but decided to spontaneously wed six days before the submarine left.
Returning in time for Christmas, Schneider said, is amazing. "It's everything I thought it would be," he said, "and more."