China holds Whidbey Crew

"Seven Oak Harbor families kept a silent vigil this week, waiting for word that the mainland Chinese government released their loved ones from detainment and sent them home.Military spouses late Tuesday remain close by the telephone, tuning in to news broadcasts, and doing their best to shield their children from a reality difficult for a young mind to understand.The families are blanketed in the support of the Navy, the military family community, and the community of Oak Harbor.The Navy wife network is very strong, said Candy Marriott, wife of Capt. William Marriott, commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10.Her husband described the range of emotions felt by the families of the crewmembers being held on the Chinese island of Hainan, following a mid-air collision of their EP-3 surveillance plane with a Chinese intercept jet that forced an emergency landing. They are frightened, concerned for the well-being of their loved ones and they are very, very angry, Capt. Marriott said during a Tuesday news conference at a media center set up in the American Red Cross building near the main gate of the base on Ault Field Road.Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One, VQ1, the squadron based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station that is home port to 14 of the 24 crewmembers held in China, has assigned a point-of-contact to each family, whether local or in other regions of the country, Capt. Marriott said. The point-of-contact is the link of information from the command to the families. Capt. Larry Salter, base commander, offered Oak Harbor families living off-base a haven on base property, Capt. Marriott said. The offer was open to any family of the detained crewmembers who thought they might feel more comfortable and secure on base property.Family members in Oak Harbor were given a briefing on Monday with all information known at the time. Updates are being provided by the points-of-contact in their twice-daily contact with families.Navy spouses have been pulling together and providing support to the affected families, Candy Marriott said. The enlisted wives club is preparing meals for six of the families, and possibly providing services, such as care for the families' children, all under age 10.Navy spouses got together Tuesday to tie donated yellow ribbons around trees and poles both on base and around Oak Harbor. The effort, begun by the spouses, has spread to the civilian community as well, Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen said.The yellow ribbon campaign initiated by military spouses has been taken over by the civilian community, Cohen said. The yellow color is now spread from one end of town to the other.The military and civilian populations are uniquely and deliberately woven together in Oak Harbor, Cohen said. The detained crewmembers are the sons and daughters of Oak Harbor.This touches our heart. We are struggling. We pray for a quick and peaceful resolution, Cohen said.I have been a Navy wife for 20 years and I've lived in a lot of Navy towns, said Candy Marriott. I've never seen a community that takes care of the Navy like Oak Harbor.Held crewmembers' families also have services and resources available to them through the Navy chaplain and the Family Service Center on the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station's Seaplane Base. Lt. Jon Conroe, a Navy chaplain at the Naval Air Station, met with families at the chapel and at the briefing on Monday. The base chapel remains open to all in the military community for prayers and support.While military spouses and families realize there is risk involved with military work, knowing the danger is far different than actually experiencing it, Conroe said.It obviously brings reality home. You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at or call 675-6611. "

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