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Squadron delayed by terrorist attacks

Lt. Cmdr. John Sheehan reaches out for his wife Laurie. The two embraced for the first time in almost seven months when members of VAQ-141 returned Friday from deployment aboard the USS Enterprise in the Middle East. - Christine Smith
Lt. Cmdr. John Sheehan reaches out for his wife Laurie. The two embraced for the first time in almost seven months when members of VAQ-141 returned Friday from deployment aboard the USS Enterprise in the Middle East.
— image credit: Christine Smith

Life for a Whidbey Island-based squadron and their families got a whole lot sweeter on Friday.

Once again, they are together.

The USS Enterprise started on its way back to the states from a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf on Sept. 10.

On Sept. 11, everything changed.

The aircraft carrier, based in Norfolk, Va., received orders to turn around and go back to the Arabian Gulf in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. On board was Electronic Attack Squadron 141, based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Family members of VAQ-141 “Shadowhawks,” looking forward to a homecoming on Oct. 22, suddenly had no idea when to expect their loved ones home.

“For a while we didn’t have a homecoming date, and it was endless, it seemed,” said Brooke Korsmo, wife of Lt. Thomas G. Korsmo.

Squadron spouses kept in touch and kept busy, Brooke Korsmo said, trying to make the time pass until word was received that the Shadowhawks were coming home. It was a difficult time, but the spouses supported the squadron’s mission and understood the need for secrecy.

“Due to operational security we could not know, and we understood. We wanted our husbands to be safe and we wanted them to have safe passage home,” said Korsmo, the mother of a 22-month old girl.

Then, the good news came.

“About ... 14 days ago we got a homecoming date, and ever since then it’s been a lot of joy,” Korsmo said.

And Friday at noon, Korsmo beamed as she coaxed her daughter, who was just 15 months old when her father left, to toddle out the hangar doors into the waiting arms of her daddy.

Finding the inner strength to support a military mission from the home front seems to be the hallmark of military spouses.

“We got word after the attacks that the ship had been turned back around. It was hard but it was nice to know they could be part of the support for the nation. And we are very proud of them,” said Tracey Kern, wife of Lt. Cdr. Bill Kern.

As the alert bells rang indicating the opening of the hangar doors, Kern knew that she would be reunited with her husband within a matter of minutes. After nearly seven months apart, Kern said she felt butterflies in her stomach, in anticipation of once again laying eyes on her husband of nine years.

As supportive as the spouses were of VAQ-141’s extended mission, the squadron members themselves remained highly motivated, said squadron Commanding Officer Sterling G. Gilliam, Jr.

Gilliam spoke with reporters after reuniting with his family. His twin children, Sterling, III and Olivia, who just turned three years old on Sunday, clung to Dad, who moments before waved to them from the cockpit of the EA-6B Prowler he piloted home.

“It wasn’t hard after the events of eleven September,” Gilliam said of keeping up the morale of the men and women under his command.

“Everybody was motivated. We all knew we were facing an extension...on our normal six-month deployment. However, everybody knew that we would stay out there and do our jobs and we would not stay a day longer than we had to,” Gilliam said.

The mission of the EA-6B Prowler is to support strike aircraft by interrupting enemy radar and gathering electronic intelligence within a combat area.

ach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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