Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SO GOOD TO BE HOME; Relieved Families Greet the Returning USS De Wert, Which Lost 3 Aviators in a Helicopter Crash While on Deployment

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SO GOOD TO BE HOME; Relieved Families Greet the Returning USS De Wert, Which Lost 3 Aviators in a Helicopter Crash While on Deployment

Article excerpt

Byline: GREGORY PIATT

The signs posted around Mayport Naval Station welcoming home the sailors on the USS De Wert didn't soothe the anxious and longing mood Friday among the families waiting on the pier.

The guided missile frigate was deployed in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea for counter-drug operations.

However, it wasn't the six-month mission alone that left hearts at home longing for loved ones.

One week into the deployment, three aviators from the on-board helicopter detachment were killed when their SH-60B Seahawk crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Colombia.

The aircraft and crew -- Lt. Chris Snyder, Lt. j.g. Nick Juron and Petty Officer 2nd Class John Kaye -- from the Mayport-based Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 48 Detachment 9 were never recovered.

The 250 crew members didn't want the crash to define the cruise, but fate let it happen that way, said Master Chief Petty Officer Bill Stepnick, a maintenance chief on the De Wert.

"It was a reminder that the work we do is dangerous," he said.

During the deployment, the De Wert stopped and boarded five vessels, detained 17 people and confiscated 260 bales of drugs. They also anchored off Haiti during that country's elections in February to show U.S. support, the Navy said.

With the families coming out Friday morning to the pier, Jennifer McLeod, the wife of the De Wert's executive officer, was busy making sure all the little details of the homecoming celebration were just right.

"After the accident happened, for me, it has been all about them coming home," she said.

The crash reminded McLeod how crucial the spouses can be back home. In the Navy, when the sailors deploy, spouses form a support group to help each other and keep each other informed.

When she first heard about the crash an hour or so after it happened, McLeod said she had no idea who was on board.

She worried her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Ian McLeod, might be on board because he occasionally uses the the helicopter in his job as the second-highest ranking officer on the ship.

Immediately, Jennifer McLeod began getting calls from wives wanting to know who was on the helicopter. …

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