Duval County

‘Drop that anchor!: Hundreds of sailors return home after 3 months overseas

MAYPORT — After a months-long mission, hundreds of sailors made their way back to Naval Station Mayport on Monday to reunite with their families and loved ones.

It was the moment this eager crowd had been counting down the days for, decked out with signs, U.S. flags, and in their best red, white, and blue outfits.

USS The Sullivans has returned, with their loved ones on board.

“This is special to be home again,” said Commander James Diefenderfer.

About 300 sailors arrived to greet their families after spending three months overseas.

“Long overdue,” said Latonia Harrell.

She was with her daughter waiting for her husband, EMC James Harrell.

“I’m extremely proud of him. Extremely,” she said.

Latonia was also extremely excited to see him, bringing a sign that said:

“Drop that anchor and let my man off! It’s going down!” Latonia read out loud.

And sure enough, they did!

“It feels real good, real good to be home with my wife, my daughter,” James said.

Meanwhile, Keeiona Kelly was here waiting for her husband, Demonte Wells, with her baby and toddler.

Except, this is the first time he got to meet his two-month-old daughter Kelani.

“He actually left two weeks before I had her,” Keeiona explained.

“It feels great. I’ve been waiting for a minute to come back,” Wells said. “To see [Kelani] and then I know [my son] missed me a lot.”

“Really, it’s what drives you because sometimes you know, being out there for so long, it just gets to you mentally,” he shared. “So, when you get to stop at ports and come home, it’s like a cool-down time to like you know, ‘Let me get my mind right.’”

These sailors have been navigating 20,000 nautical miles around the world to provide air and missile defense for all NATO forces. That also means working long days and nights.

“12 to 14 hours a day, so they’re working really hard,” Diefenderfer explained.

And now, they get to refuel with some quality time!

“That’s the most important thing, most important thing,” James emphasized.

“Do you feel like your missions overseas prepared you for two under two?” Action News Jax Jessica Barreto jokingly asked Wells.

“Yeah, definitely,” he replied with a laugh.

These sailors will be here for the next couple of months to spend time with family as they prepare for their next mission.

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