Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Navy Pilots Get Hero's Welcome

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Navy Pilots Get Hero's Welcome

Article excerpt

Fresh from patrolling the skies over Iraq, Navy combat pilots

swooped over Jacksonville yesterday as they returned from a

six-month deployment that took them to the brink of war.

The pilots of Strike Fighter Squadrons 82 and 86 received a

hero's welcome as they bounded from their FA-18 Hornet jets at

Cecil Field and were wrapped in tentacle-like hugs by jubilant

wives and children.

Their routine Mediterranean cruise was interrupted in November

when President Clinton ordered their aircraft carrier, the USS

George Washington, into the Persian Gulf.

At the time, the United States was threatening air strikes

against Iraq unless President Saddam Hussein gave United Nations

arms inspectors free rein to search for the makings of chemical

and biological weapons.

"It was exciting. We thought we were pretty close [to launching

strikes] a couple of times," said Cmdr. Greg Nosal, executive

officer of the VFA-82 Marauders.

Eventually, Saddam backed down and everyone breathed easier,

though U.S. forces -- including another ship carrying

Jacksonville warplanes -- remain in the region to ensure Saddam

keeps his word.

Also returning yesterday were S-3 anti-submarine jets from

Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

The bulk of the squadron members, along with four warships from

Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville-based helicopters, return

today. All told, more than 2,000 local sailors are coming home.

Jackie Mongillo, whose husband is a pilot, said this was

"probably the hardest cruise I've been through -- and I went

through the gulf war cruise -- because of all the uncertainty."

"The gulf war, we knew they were going in," said Mongillo, who

brought the couple's two children to welcome dad home. "This one

was every day wait and see. You never knew what tomorrow was

going to bring. …

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