EVERETT – A nearly six-month separation from her husband turned out to be valuable education for Erin Gulke of Everett.
“It was a big learning experience,” she said. “I just had to do everything myself. Now that he’s back, I won’t have to do it all.”
Nick Gulke, a second-class petty officer, missed celebrating his wife’s 21st birthday and their first wedding anniversary.
He was among the 330 men and women who returned to Naval Station Everett on Friday aboard the USS Momsen. The guided-missile destroyer had been deployed to Southeast Asian waters to patrol for smugglers, terrorists and pirates.
The ship, one of the nation’s newest Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, made its inaugural deployment. It arrived in Everett two years ago, and current commanding officer Cmdr. Patrick Kelly came aboard in August 2005 to prepare the crew for a long deployment.
Erin Gulke stood on the pier poised with a camera looking at the 510-foot vessel and its crew members, hoping to get a glimpse of her husband. She has no children, which made the separation easier, she said.
“It’s something I have to learn to live with,” she said of a Navy life that includes long separations.
For Jenifer Stevenson, the separation was more of a chore.
Her sons, Jordan, 9, and Jacob, 5, stood on the pier wearing T-shirts with pictures of their dad, Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Stevenson, and the greeting: “Welcome Home Daddy.”
It was the second deployment for Jenifer Stevenson, of Marysville.
“We handled it,” she said. “It’s not fun, but we deal with it.”
With one member of the household away, it was Jenifer Stevenson who helped with all the homework, took the boys to soccer practice and tended to scores of other needs.
“I’m used to doing everything myself, and now that he’s back, he will be helping. It’s nice he can help,” she said.
It also means a period of readjustment for both adults in the family, because she’ll have to turn some of the control of matters over to her husband, she said.
Others look to deployments, and the spouse’s return, as an opportunity.
“I love it. I really do,” said Michele Key of Arlington.
Key just got through the fourth deployment of her husband, Chief Patrick Key. She and her three teenage daughters paraded on the pier in T-shirts painted with “Navy Wife,” “Navy Brat,” “Welcome Home Chief” and “I Love my Daddy.”
Why does she like the separations? Because there’s always something exciting when he returns.
“You get the same feeling when they come back like I did on our wedding day,” Michele Key said. “Then you have your honeymoon for two weeks.”
Michele Key said she had her daughters – Danyale, 16, Sarah, 17, and Meagan, 18 – to keep her busy during the separation. Two of them learned how to drive in the last six months.
Momsen commanding officer Kelly pronounced the deployment a success, even if it didn’t encounter any smugglers or terrorists.
The ship spent about 90 percent of the time at sea, in waters known for terrorist training. The mere fact it was there and tracking the shipping routes made it difficult for suspicious ships to ply the waters, he said.
“They all knew we were there, so they had to try and find a new way to do business,” Kelly said.
The crew made several stops, including visits to Hong Kong and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
“The ship did beautifully,” said Kelly, who also called the warship a national treasure.
There were no major mechanical problems; Kelly credited his crew with properly operating and maintaining the vessel.
The most important thing, the commanding officer said, was the Momsen returned “with all the crew safe and sound.”
Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.