“It feels good to be home”: USS Donald Cook returns home to Mayport after 3-month deployment

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Around 250 Navy sailors aboard the USS Donald Cook were welcomed home Sunday morning at Naval Station Mayport.

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This was a three-month deployment, and the sailors worked with NATO allies and partners in the Eastern Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea.

Action News Jax Kennedy Dendy spoke with Izabella Pena just moments before her girlfriend, Valeria Perez, walked off the ship and into her arms.

Perez has served in the Navy for four years.

“It’s a super crazy overwhelming feeling honestly,” Perez said. “When we left, we didn’t know when we were coming home, so it was super exciting to find out when we were coming back.”

Pena and Perez shared the traditional “first kiss” of the homecoming.

“I was like wow look at her standing up there in that spiffy uniform,” Pena said. “I’m glad that she got through it, and she had good will and she definitely kept motivated.”

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Families say this day could not have come soon enough, greeting their loved ones back to Mayport.

Marlene Sloan has served in the Navy for 12 years.

“It feels good,” Sloan said. “It feels good to be home.”

While overseas, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) won warfare excellence awards in communications, engineering and ship safety.

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Commanding Officer Matthew Curnen was greeted by his wife and baby girl Sunday morning.

“When your nation calls to go support the mission and then being able to come home to our families there waiting for us and getting to spend time at home,” Curnen said.

Curnen has been attached to the USS Donald Cook for 38 months and has been the commanding officer since December 2020.

“Where we were was pretty cold,” Curnen said. “I was in a turtleneck and long johns for like two straight months. I’m excited to put on some shorts and feel the sand between my toes and relax.”