LAKE STEVENS — On this Christmas Day, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Miguel Chicocorrea and his family plan to be in Victoria, B.C., enjoying tea time and the holiday lights decorating the Empress Hotel and the Parliament buildings.
It’s the first vacation they have had together in more than a year, owing to Chicocorrea’s recent 262-day, 80,000-mile deployment aboard the USS Nimitz.
Nine days ago, the aircraft carrier returned home to Naval Station Everett after nine months away. Chicocorrea’s youngest daughter, Anuhea, turned 3 that day. Her daddy’s return was her favorite birthday gift. And her big smile was his treasured homecoming present.
Today, his presence is the best Christmas gift for all of the Chicocorrea family, including son Kainoa, 12, daughter, Alana, 7, and wife, Shayanne.
Shayanne and Miguel, now in their early 30s, met in her home state of Hawaii when he was stationed there. He joined the Navy right out of high school in Los Angeles and has been climbing his way up the ladder of enlisted ranks ever since. During that time he also earned a degree in elementary education. Someday he would like to be a kindergarten teacher.
For now, though, he works the dangerous catapult job on the bow of the aircraft carrier’s flight deck. Among his previous deployments were joint special forces missions to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chicocorrea has been away for many a Christmas. While he was in Afghanistan, he often went a month or more without even talking to his family.
The homecoming in Everett on Dec. 16 was a special one for the family.
That morning, Shayanne loaded up the kids at their home in a Navy housing neighborhood in Lake Stevens and drove to the base. They waited three hours in the sunny December chill for Daddy.
A sign held by Alana read, “Hip, Hip, Hooray! Daddy’s Coming Home Today!”
Anuhea ate a candy cane she got from Santa Claus, who visited with all the Navy kids waiting on the pier. She waved four American flags her mom had picked up from the Naval Sea Cadet Corps and drank hot chocolate served by the Lakes Stevens American Legion Post 181.
“We’re still not used to the cold,” Shayanne said. “We miss Hawaii.”
They laughed at the sea lions barking and swimming just off the pier.
Anuhea danced to the Navy band playing nearby.
Kainoa talked about challenging his dad to games on Xbox.
Alana recalled a time that was especially hard during the deployment. She would clutch a pillow her mother had embossed with a photo of Daddy. A visit to Woodland Park Zoo and horseback riding with other children of deployed sailors made it better.
Shayanne’s mother came to visit for a couple of months during the summer.
“It took time away from being lonely,” she said. “It helped a lot.”
The noon sun was already low in the sky as the ship tied up to the pier. With one hand Shayanne shielded the glare from her eyes. In the other hand, she held her cell phone close and waited for her husband’s call.
Finally, it rang.
“He’ll be carrying a box of wine he bought in Italy,” she said. “Start looking for him.”
On board, Chicocorrea gathered up his heavy duffle bag, the wine box, a bag of gifts from each country he visited and a rose for his wife.
“I had to show my ID before getting off,” he said. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I looked and looked for them. Finally, I saw Shayanne.”
Anuhea jumped into her daddy’s arms. He’s been gone most of her life so far.
“Are we going to have a birthday party today, little baby?” he said.
Shayanne cried and kissed her husband. The other kids grinned.
“Look how tall you are,” he said to Kainoa and Alana.
Back at home, the welcome home signs are tacked to the front window. The four American flags are mingled with the holiday decorations on the porch.
Presents are lined up beneath a big Christmas tree. The family room is cozy. Miguel relaxed and talked about feeling down during the deployment, and about encouraging the young sailors aboard the Nimitz.
“The 18- to 21-year-old bunch is the heart and soul of the Navy,” he said. “Without them we can’t get it done. For many, though, it’s their first time away from home. You have to mentor them with tough love and figure out what motivates them. I tell them to pay attention, be respectful and be on time.”
“I have sad days, too, especially when it’s hot on deck and the days are long,” Miguel said. “The flight crew cheers me up. We man up and we do it.”
During the past week, Chicocorrea has enjoyed the simple things: Driving his older kids to school. Walking with Anuhea to the mailbox. Sipping hot coffee with his wife.
“I have my best friend back,” Shayanne said. “I am happy. Not sad, not depressed, not lonesome.”
“It’s great to be home for Christmas.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.