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USS Bataan group returns home from the Middle East

Families rush to meet sailors leaving the USS Bataan. March 21, 2024. Steve Walsh
Families rush to meet sailors leaving the USS Bataan. March 21, 2024. Steve Walsh

The crew of the USS Bataan returned to Naval Station Norfolk Thursday after an eight-month deployment. 

Also on Thursday, the USS Carter Hall pulled into Joint Base Little Creek/Fort Story. The third ship in the group, the USS Mesa Verde, returns Friday. 

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro was on hand to greet the 1,000 sailors on the Bataan, who were in the Red Sea and off the coast of Israel since leaving Hampton Roads in July. 

“The mission that they fulfilled in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea is actually something that has not been seen since World War Two. And I'm so proud of our Navy and our Marine Corps,” he said.

Earlier in the week, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune arrived home ahead of their ships. 

A total of 4,000 sailors and Marines were part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which saw its mission abruptly shift when war broke out in Gaza in October.

The U.S. has been part of a coalition to protect shipping in the Red Sea, where Houthi Rebels have aimed drones and anti-ship missiles at the Navy and commercial ships in the region. Before the Bataan was repositioned to the coast of Israel, the ship did fire on drones in the Red Sea, said Captain Paul Burkhart.

“We took a couple shots with our rolling airframe missiles. They're not typically designed for that type of shooting, but we were seeing what we could do to be successful up there,” he said.

The drones were not headed toward the Bataan. They were at the edge of the missiles’ range and the ship missed. Like other Navy ships in the region, the Bataan was continually recalibrated the ship’s defenses, he said.

“If we had a little bit more advance notice that they were in our weapons envelope, then we'd probably be successful,” Burkhart said. 

The three ships and their Marines were eventually reunited off the coast of Israel, where they continued to perform exercises as part of a show of force by the U.S., replacing the Norfolk-based USS Ford, after the carrier left the region.

The Bataan was extended twice, which is difficult, said Aaliyaa Boston, who waited pierside for her husband Petty Officer Second Class Deion Boston.

“It can definitely be nerve wracking but to be able to email him and to know that he’s OK, that helps,” she said. 

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

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