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Welcome home

USS Abraham Lincoln staff meteorologist Lt. Cmdr. Rick Fritsch and his wife Melissa enjoy a  day at the beach as he gets to know his new twins, Katherine Lynette, left, and Meredith Leslie. - Marcie Miller
USS Abraham Lincoln staff meteorologist Lt. Cmdr. Rick Fritsch and his wife Melissa enjoy a day at the beach as he gets to know his new twins, Katherine Lynette, left, and Meredith Leslie.
— image credit: Marcie Miller

While families of VAQ-139 Cougars waited for the Prowlers to return today from their near-record nine-month deployment, one local sailor was able to return last week, and meet his family for the first time.

Lt. Cmdr. Rick Fritsch is stationed in Everett, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as a staff oceanographer and meteorologist, but he and his wife Melissa live in Oak Harbor. He was previously a weather officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

While Fritsch was gone, Melissa delivered their twin daughters, Meredith and Katherine, on Oct. 2 at the Whidbey base hospital. In their entire seven-month lives, their father had yet to hold them, count their little toes and fingers or change a diaper. The new parents had to make do with e-mailed photos and a few precious video teleconferences.

Of the reported 150 babies born while their fathers were on the Lincoln’s lengthy deployment, the Fritsches believe theirs are the only twins.

Last week Melissa was getting ready for the long-anticipated homecoming, and having the girls meet their father for the first time. She was not looking forward to the chaos of the Lincoln pulling into Everett with the familes of the 5,000 crew members all jostling for attention.

Instead, she got what she thought was yet another long distance phone call from her husband last Tuesday. She asked him what he wanted for his homecoming dinner.

“He asked me what I had in the freezer,” she said. “Then he said, ‘Open the door.’”

She opened the front door to find her husband standing in the driveway.

“It was a great surprise,” she said, “and not all the hustle and bustle of the ship homecoming.”

Fritsch was able to get off the ship in Guam, and fly home early.

The new dad said the last three months of the extended deployment were sad, but endurable. The couple knew it was part of life in the military.

The young couple decided they didn’t want to wait any longer to start a family, even though they knew his deployment was inevitable. They figured he would be gone for the October delivery date, but thought he would be home three months later.

Instead, the girls met their father for the first time when they were almost seven months old.

“He missed a lot of firsts — rolling over, sleeping through the night, first smile,” Melissa Fritsch said. “But there’s so much more to look forward to.”

After the babies were born Fritsch’s daily shipboard routine changed.

“Every morning I would sit at my desk and flip through the pictures of the babies,” he said. “It was an instant booster shot.”

On a recent sunny day at Oak Harbor’s City Beach, the family looked the picture of contentment, and they were. They were glad to have missed the Lincoln’s dockside homecoming next week in Everett.

“This is exactly what I wanted,” Rick Fritsch said of his surprise homecoming. “The four of us in our little house.”

Other families

still waiting

Wendy Turner expects at least 20 family members to be on the docks in Everett when the Lincoln comes in, all waiting to welcome her brother Lt. Harry Statia, who is a catapult operator on the ship. It was his job to launch the jets that flew in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Statia’s large Oak Harbor family has been waiting a long time for this homecoming. At Easter the family made a big banner for Statia with all their handprints on it.

“We tried to make it as much of a family thing as possible,” Turner said.

The family plans on having a potluck dinner in Arlington with Statia’s wife Melissa and children Samantha, Alexandria, and Gavin on homecoming day, then getting together for a large family dinner at Turner’s Oak Harbor home on Mother’s Day weekend.

The family has never done a shipyard homecoming before.

“I hope he will be able to find us,” Turner said.

Families of the homeward bound Prowlers were kept in suspense until the last minute, as the squadron’s arrival time, and day, kept changing. It’s not unusual for a returning squadron to be delayed several hours, but this time the scheduled arrival was changed Monday from Thursday to this afternoon.

That made planning a huge homecoming party difficult.

Sandi Pollpeter, wife of Cougar commander Scott Pollpeter has been trying to work around the on-again-off-again fly-in date in planning the hangar homecoming.

“I just have to keep laughing,” she said.

Scott Pollpeter was promoted to commanding officer of VAQ-139 Dec. 5 in a shipboard change of command ceremony in the Northern Arabian Gulf.

A large “Welcome Home” banner hangs on the Pollpeter garage, and red, white and blue cars sit in the driveway, sporting “Support the Troops” bumper stickers.

When her husband gets home Sandi Pollpeter plans on having a few family days with their children Ashley and Derek, then the two of them will be heading to Victoria for a some “real quality time.”

Four Prowlers with 16 crewmen will return today, while the rest of the support crews will arrive more quietly on Friday.

Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce is taking a low-key role in the homecoming.

“We realize people want to be with their families,” Priscilla Heistad, chamber executive director, said.

The chamber will display a large “Welcome Home” banner, “just to let them know we appreciate what they’ve done ,” she said.

They are also encouraging local businesses to display “Welcome Home” signs for all the returning sailors.

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

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