Cougars are coming home

It looks like the sailors of VAQ-139 will be the first returning squadron to see the hundreds of yellow ribbons festooning Oak Harbor in support of the troops.

Families of the crew aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln were told Sunday that the Everett-based aircraft carrier was finally coming home, after nine months at sea. A Navy 5th Fleet spokesman said the ship should reach port “sometime in May.”

“Cougar” Prowler squadron ombudsman Dawn McElroy said she’ll believe it when she sees it.

“Until they’re getting off the plane, they’re not really home yet,” she said.

Families of the Lincoln crew have been disappointed before. The Lincoln and its seven-ship battle group was steaming toward home Dec. 31 when it got the call to redeploy indefinitely. Instead of heading to the Everett base, the ship and crew of nearly 5,800 headed for the Persian Gulf, where it was involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The ship carries 70 warplanes and a squadron of EA-6B Prowlers from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The radar-jamming Prowler squadron flew many missions over Iraq in support of the war, according to Navy sources.

While her husband William McElroy and the squadron crew have been fighting the war, Dawn McElroy has been busy at home, spearheading the effort to decorate seemingly every tree and signpost in town with yellow ribbons.

Now, they are working on making “welcome home” signs for every member of the crew. The signs will line the entrances and exits from the base.

McElroy said the community support has been overwhelming.

“It makes me cry,” she said. “People I don’t even know are lifting up the troops.”

The Lincoln will be replaced by the USS Nimitz battle group, but officials declined to specify a date, citing security.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynews or call 675-6611

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