Family, friends, welcome USS Virginia crew home

Lainey Antcliff, 10, second from left, daughter of Commander Steven Antcliff, left, commanding officer of the USS Virginia (SSN 774), runs up to hug her father after the submarine returned to its homeport at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Thursday, July 28, 2016. The USS Virginia is the lead ship in the Virginia class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Lainey Antcliff, 10, second from left, daughter of Commander Steven Antcliff, left, commanding officer of the USS Virginia (SSN 774), runs up to hug her father after the submarine returned to its homeport at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Thursday, July 28, 2016. The USS Virginia is the lead ship in the Virginia class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Groton — Angela Covington made a paper chain for her two sons when their father left on deployment, with one link for each day he’d be gone.

The boys, Jaxon, 2 and Gabriel, 5, realized a few days ago that the chain was getting short. Jaxon could only say, “Daddy on boat,” but they knew their father was coming home.

On Thursday, 1st Class Petty Officer Michael Covington of Brooklyn was among 132 sailors on the USS Virginia who arrived home to the Naval Submarine Base after a six-month deployment.

Gabriel ran to his father and Covington scooped up both boys, who were dressed alike in white sailor hats, red tank tops and navy blue shorts for the homecoming.

“It feels amazing,” Covington said of being home. “It’s good to have the boys back.”

His youngest changed when he was gone, he said; “He actually talks."

The USS Virginia, the lead ship in a class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines, traveled about 35,000 nautical miles in the European area to support national and maritime security missions. It made stops in Scotland, Norway and England.

Commanding Officer Steven Antcliff said the deployment went well and the sailors did exactly what they were trained to do.

“Everybody, all the families should be very proud of what their sailors did for the Navy and for this country,” he said.

The sailors included new fathers and those whose fathers or grandfathers served in armed forces during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or World War II.

Families traveled from as far away as Wisconsin and Texas to greet the returning sailors.

About 150 students from the submarine school marched to the dock and greeted the top officers of the boat with cheers as a show of respect.

Anthony Lapham, 15, held a sign that read “Welcome home Dad! We missed you” for his father, Senior Chief Petty Officer Richard Lapham.

Anthony Lapham said he cleaned the family's house for three or four hours to get ready so everything would be in good order.

“He’s the one who cooks,” Anthony Lapham said of his father. “I’ve been taking his place as chef while he’s been gone.” He also got his first job while his dad was deployed.

Richard Lapham of Groton has six children, ranging in age from 4 to 18. They wept in his arms when he arrived.

Andrea Cooper of Groton was waiting for her husband, 2nd Class Petty Officer Shomari Cooper. She said she was so excited and nervous about his return that she didn’t eat or sleep for two days.

“I’ve started a lot of new journeys” while he was away, she said. Those included starting nursing school, moving and renting a new house.

“I’m so anxious. In a good way,” she said. “Definitely excited and ready.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

Gabriel Covington, 5, of Brooklyn, Conn., waits for his father, Electronic Navigation Technician 1st Class Petty Officer Michael Covington, a crew member aboard the USS Virginia (SSN 774), the lead ship in the Virgina class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines, to return to the sub's homeport at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Gabriel Covington, 5, of Brooklyn, Conn., waits for his father, Electronic Navigation Technician 1st Class Petty Officer Michael Covington, a crew member aboard the USS Virginia (SSN 774), the lead ship in the Virgina class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines, to return to the sub's homeport at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Erika Rogers, center, of Chicago, Ill., is in tears as she hugs her brother Stephen Rogers, a a U.S. Navy culinary specialist, aboard the USS Virginia (SSN 774), the lead ship in the Virgina class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines, moments after his return to homeport at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Thursday, July 28, 2016. The Rogers family surprised their son, who was not expecting to see them. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Erika Rogers, center, of Chicago, Ill., is in tears as she hugs her brother Stephen Rogers, a a U.S. Navy culinary specialist, aboard the USS Virginia (SSN 774), the lead ship in the Virgina class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines, moments after his return to homeport at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Thursday, July 28, 2016. The Rogers family surprised their son, who was not expecting to see them. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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