USS Nimitz brings 2,800 sailors to Everett

EVERETT — The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz sailed into its new homeport Friday morning with hundreds of its 2,800 sailors in dress wool uniforms lining the rails along the flight deck.

The ship arrived at Naval Station Everett about 9:30 a.m. with the help of several tug boats.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Howes, 25, ushered newspaper photographers and TV cameramen to the end of the pier where she took a few pictures with her camera phone.

Her fiance, Petty Office 3rd Class Shane Johnson, is stationed aboard the Nimitz, which had been undergoing repairs for more than a year in Bremerton. They’re excited because the arrival means they won’t need to commute to see each other.

“I am so happy,” said Howes, a native Tennessean. “I am happy that he’s here and we’ll both be in Everett and we’ll be able to spend more time together.”

A helicopter from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, with a Navy photographer on board to document the occasion, circled the ship several times in a welcome gesture. The crew of the USS Shoup, the only other ship in port, blew the destroyer’s horn to welcome the carrier and the crews of two Coast Guard boats stood watch.

“The Nimitz sailors are going to like it here. There is so much wonderful outdoors stuff to do,” Howes said. “And Everett has good restaurants, a good transportation system and, on base, we have good programs for the single sailors.”

The Nimitz replaces the USS Abraham Lincoln, which departed Dec. 7 to circumnavigate the globe before heading to Virginia to get its nuclear reactors replenished.

A crowd of people at Grand Avenue Park in Everett watched the warship arrive.

Among them was Greg Halstead, 55, who made the trip from his home in Marysville to view the arrival. A veteran who in December lost his job at Kimberly-Clark, Halstead said the Nimitz’s arrival means jobs for the community.

“I’m glad to see they replaced the Lincoln,” Halstead said.

The ship took more than an hour to dock. In the meantime, wives, husbands, parents, girlfriends, boyfriends and bundled-up children of the sailors crowded together in a windswept waiting area. Many carried hand-made welcome signs.

Amanda Niegowski Odell, 21, of Lynnwood, waited for her husband, Petty Officer 3rd Class Jacob Odell, one of the sailors who tends to the ship’s nuclear reactors. High school sweethearts in Sedro-Woolley, the Odells are pleased to be back on home turf after assignments in South Carolina and New York.

“It’s a blessing to be back and have the support of our families,” Amanda Odell said.

After he got off the ship, the Odells were headed right home, despite the draw of the welcome event at the base commons. There, sailors and their families could eat lunch, listen to music and watch their children be entertained as well as meet with vendors, real estate agents and members of community organizations.

Brenda Townes also planned to get her husband home right away. Lt. Cmdr. Richard Townes is a chaplain on the Nimitz. The couple, originally from Michigan, moved to Marysville in October and have been enjoying the view from their new home.

However, the nearly three-hour commute her husband had to make to Bremerton while the ship was being repaired was brutal, Brenda Townes said.

“Anybody who is still living in Bremerton needs to move over here,” she said. “The commute is too costly and the community here is too good.”

Linnea, 10, and Emilia, 5, waited in the wind with their mother, Jill, for their father, Chief Petty Officer Joel Lolkema, a radar specialist on his final tour of duty.

“It’s more laid-back here and I think people here don’t mind the military because it isn’t such a huge presence,” Jill Lolkema said. “Life in the military isn’t all that fun, but you just make the best of it. I think we will like it here.”

The families were welcomed on pier by a crowd of dignitaries that included base commander Capt. Mike Coury; the governor’s husband, Mike Gregoire; Mayors Ray Stephanson of Everett, Jon Nehring of Marysville and Barbara Tolbert of Arlington; Tulalip Tribes chairman Mel Sheldon; and Nimitz commander Capt. Paul Monger.

The crowd cheered when Rear Adm. Peter Gumataotao said he would talk fast so the sailors could head home.

“It’s a pleasure and an honor to see how the community welcomes the Navy here, and the editorial in today’s Herald said it all,” Gumataotao said. “The Lincoln is gone, but guess what? The Nimitz is here, baby!”

Then Mayor Stephanson announced the liberty call and the sailors filed off the Nimitz.

Another day of work done in a new homeport.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com. Julie Muhlstein contributed to this report.

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