Little Eleanor, just 5 days old and wearing a hooded fuzzy bear onesie, slept soundly in her mother's arms as they waited on the pier by the aircraft carrier. She was about to meet her father, aviation machinist's mate Raymond Dillon, for the first time.
“Today is actually her due date — so he is late but she was also early,” mom Jana Dillon said with a laugh.
Thousands of families braved frigid temperatures Wednesday to welcome the USS Gerald R. Ford back from its maiden deployment to hostile waters. The Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group left Naval Station Norfolk in May but the Department of Defense extended its deployment at sea by 76 days, or from six to 8½ months.
The thrice-extended deployment meant crew members spent Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Eve — holidays they expected to share at home with loved ones — at sea.
“You just have to recognize that the world is out of your control,” Jana Dillon said. “You have to kind of be along for the ride.”
The crew took the extensions in stride, said Rear Adm. Erik Eslich, commander of the Ford strike group, as he stood pierside after disembarking from the carrier.
“We made the best of the situation,” Eslich said. “We held our heads high and took care of each other. I couldn't be prouder of what we did as mariners and aviators but also what we did as human beings.”
The Ford and its strike group were…