Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mission Complete Ships Come Home from Adriatic

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mission Complete Ships Come Home from Adriatic

Article excerpt

Brent Hippe spent six months at sea. He saw cruise missiles launch from his ship's deck and, at times, wondered if he'd return home from the Adriatic Sea in one piece.

"It's like my heart is skipping a beat," Hippe said yesterday as the USS Philippine Sea steamed toward the familiar sight of Mayport Naval Station, ending a combat mission in the Balkans.

The guided-missile cruiser opened NATO's attack March 23, firing 10 Tomahawk missiles at targets in Kosovo. Yesterday it returned safely to its home port along with the USS Gettysburg, its USS Enterprise Battle Group partner.

As the 567-foot ship inched toward its pier, family members cheered and waved. Some held signs welcoming the 360 crew members, as a Navy band played Happy Days Are Here Again.

Hippe, 21, waited anxiously.

"This is taking way too long," he said, as cranes moved gang-planks into place. He hadn't seen his sweetheart, Shannon McCann, 18, since they were engaged before the six-month deployment Nov. 6.

Hippe was among the first to leave the ship's stern. He grabbed his fiancee and they locked in a long embrace.

"She's gorgeous," he said. "I can't believe I'm home."

"It was worth the wait," McCann said.

The conflict in the Adriatic was the first combat Hippe and many other crew members had seen. He called it "kind of scary. You always think about what could happen, and hope it doesn't."

It was his first tour at sea -- and he hopes his last, Hippe said. He plans to leave the Navy in March, after serving four years. He plans to study electrical engineering at the University of North Florida.

"I feel like I've done it all and seen it all now," he said.

Ron Duquette, a senior chief on the Philippine Sea, said it doesn't get any easier seeing combat or being away from family, even after 21 years.

"I just want to get home," Duquette said, "and cook chicken wings on the grill."

Duquette's wife and daughters greeted him on the pier with signs. His son, Jason, 10, flew with about 70 other family members to Bermuda to meet the crew Monday. Duquette and his son cruised home together.

They played bingo, ate pizza and Jason got to fire a gun. …

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