Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayport Homecoming for Lassen; Ship, Which Was Stationed in Japan for 10 Years, to Call North Florida Home

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayport Homecoming for Lassen; Ship, Which Was Stationed in Japan for 10 Years, to Call North Florida Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Ariella Phillips

Ashley Sitar grasped her pink umbrella in her right hand and her new diamond ring in the other.

"I was so nervous," she said. "I gave him the wrong hand at first."

Her fiance, Austin Soller, was deployed to Japan on the USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer. He was one of the first sailors off the ship early Monday morning, eager to see Sitar and propose.

"I've been planning it the whole way," Soller said. The petty officer second class asked her father for permission to marry her while he was still aboard the ship.

"This is unreal," she said. It had been six months since she'd seen him.

Many of the sailors served between two and three years on the ship, which returned from a 10-year deployment in Yokosuka, Japan. It will be permanently based in Mayport and undergo six to 12 months of upgrades to its weapons systems.

The 300-person crew, along with Southeastern Regional Maintenance Center, a contractor based out of Mayport, will perform the upgrades, said William Townsend, Mayport's public affairs officer.

The economic impact will be felt throughout the community. The majority of the crew's families already live around Jacksonville and attend local schools, eat at family-owned restaurants and buy homes in the area.

"That's a nice little impact," Townsend said.

The 500-foot-long ship left Japan in January and traveled across the Pacific to San Diego before making its way south to and then through the Panama Canal.

The crew also assisted the Coast Guard on criminal investigations, said Erik Reynolds, public affairs officer.

Over the last few months, the crew seized over 12 tons of cocaine from drug smugglers, and also spent time at orphanages in the Caribbean, he said. "They were wildly successful," Reynolds said.

The ship docked in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, allowing some sailors to return home early and family members of the remaining sailors to join them on board. For three days the fathers, mothers and siblings lived like the sailors - sleeping in the barracks and eating in the mess hall.

Tears filled Karrie Jones' eyes when she saw her son, Matt, standing on the ship next to his father. …

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