BREMERTON, Wash. -- As 97,000-plus tons of aircraft carrier slowly made its way into port, those waiting ashore craned their necks and strained their eyes to see if any of the sailors lining the deck were their loved ones.
"Is that him?" asked Lisa Costin to her daughter Samantha and son Dustin. Their father, recently-promoted Chief Petty Officer Andrew Costin, was on board the USS Nimitz, just minutes from reuniting with his family.
The Nimitz was bringing a squadron - the Electronic Attack Squadron 135 "Black Ravens" - of more than 200 sailors, pilots, and officers home to Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Wash.
"I've been waiting for this for a long time," Samantha, 9.
Dustin, 13, said with dad gone he had "no one to go golfing or hunting of fishing with."
The squadron left for deployment last July to support operations in Asia and the Middle East, including aid for more than 1,170 flights over Afghanistan. About 20 members of the Sea Operational Detachment from Fleet Readiness Center Northwest -- a group that helps keep jets in top condition -- also returned.
Lisa Costin said this is her husband's fourth deployment.
"It's just been one day at a time," she said. "One day at a time."
Meanwhile, Jean Peters had to wait a little longer to see her son.
Still, "this poor woman from Missouri is having a great time," she said as she cheered for the 1,092-foot long carrier and its crew.
"He's been gone since July," she said "And I bought a world map and I put it in the kitchen... and every time, he'd say 'I'm in Indonesia' I had to look it up, I didn't know where it was."
Now, she, along with about 1,200 of the crews' friends and family, will get a chance to actually board the Nimitz for a three-day "Tiger Cruise" as the carrier sails down the coast to its home port in San Diego.
"I wish I could see him [now] but I know I won't," said Peters. "It's OK. He can't get off because he has to be on duty. I can wait, I can wait."
It was clear the sailors and pilots were just as eager to get ashore to see their loved ones -- many were on cell phones, some peered and waved through lower level portholes. And when they finally disembarked, the crowd dispersed into groups of hugging, laughing, tears, and kissing.
Petty Officer Corey Baker held his son in his arms. "You don't how much you miss them until you're gone for that long a time, you know?" he said.
And CPO Andrew Costin finally embraced his kids and wife.
"Unbelievable joy, I can't believe how big my kids are, looks like they've both grown three inches since I was gone, so extraordinarily happy to be home," he said.
Lisa Costin echoed that. "Being able to have a conversation in person and not through an email anymore, it's just the little things you take for granted," she said.