BREMERTON — Standing alongside her new in-laws and supported by her good friend, Holly Carlson has a look of contained excitement with a backdrop of tension.
At just after noon, the newlywed is anxiously waiting for the arrival of USS Nimitz to its Bremerton homeport Dec. 10. Aboard the massive aircraft carrier is special cargo for Carlson, an Army nurse assigned to Madigan Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma. She is awaiting the return of her husband of three months, Nicolai Carlson, a combat systems officer, aboard the Nimitz during its six-month deployment as part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group.
Carlson and his fellow shipmates have sailed more than 78,000 miles during the deployment — a distance equal to about five times around the globe — while seeing duty in the Arabian Gulf and the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
The strike group seemingly visited every port in the world — except until now, Bremerton, the one that counted most for Holly.
The couple has been together for four and a half years but married only since September. When her husband debarks from the aircraft carrier, Carlson says they will finally be together for the first time as a married couple.
“I’m excited but nervous,” Carlson says.
She’s comforted by the Navy’s efforts to welcome the Nimitz families to the homecoming.
“I think it’s so great what they’ve done down here for the families,” she adds. “It’s been such a great experience in a wonderful environment. It’s been so exciting.”
At Holly’s side and lending moral support is Isabella Rossi, one of her best friends who is a medical officer at Madigan. Rossi by now knows the vagaries of military life. Her husband also is an active duty Army officer, but, she says with a sense of relief, “Fortunately, he’s not deployed.”
Holly’s new father-in-law, Gary Carlson, says his son Nicolai is the third generation of the family to serve in the military. Gary was a SeaBee — part of the Navy’s military construction arm — and also served aboard a ship during his years as a seaman.
Dad, meet your son
Corina Morris, also a young Navy wife, and two-and-a-half-month-old Callan also wait just off the pier for the Nimitz to pull into port. Callan, wearing a snuggly outfit that gives him the appearance of a little teddy bear, is in the arms of Devin Rodriguez, a cousin of onboard sailor Jordon Morris, who’ll soon be the object of joyful attention from his wife and new son.
Rodriguez himself is a seaman assigned to the USS Stennis. He says he considers Morris to be like his own brother, not surprisingly, since the two grew up together in their hometown of Quanah, Texas.
“We’ve been running around together since we were kids,” Rodriguez says. “While Carran is really my cousin, I call him my little nephew.”
Just like other Navy wives and husbands separated by deployment, Corina says their time apart has been difficult.
“But that time (when we’re back together) is coming.”
“Being by yourself is hard, especially when there’s another person who just can’t be there,” she says.
Morris’s baby was born while her husband was at sea. So while an in-person visit wasn’t possible, Corina says she’s made do in the intervening six months by communicating to Jordon via email and Skype.
Even with sunny skies and crisp, but tolerable, temperatures enveloping Bremerton, the hour-long wait for their loved ones to walk down the gangway was inexorable. Holly Carlson and her friend Isabella scan the Nimitz’s decks, where sailors in their Navy whites have lined the railings.
Finally, after what seems to be a long wait for a line of Naval seamen to disembark, Carlson’s eyes brighten and the tension vanish. She spots the young lieutenant — her husband Nicolai — making his way down the gangway onto the pier. Attempting in vain to hold her emotions in check, Holly quickly scurries up to her new husband with tears in her eyes. The couple embrace.