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First Flyers From Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group Return Home

Aired March 26, 2002 - 13:34   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Fresh from the fighting in Afghanistan, the first flyers from the Theodore Roosevelt battle group are returning home -- well, to their home base in Norfolk, Virginia, today.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is there for the homecoming as we bring you the pictures there as we are waiting for the planes to come in -- Bob.


LIN: Bob, I'm sorry. We can't hear you above the plane noise there, but we are going to stay with the pictures. Bob has been talking with family members all morning long. These are wives and husbands, who are waiting for their loved ones to come back; their loved ones having been gone for Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan for the last six months.

Bob Franken, maybe we can hear you now.

FRANKEN: OK. Can you hear me, Carol?

LIN: Barely.

FRANKEN: OK. Well, that's OK. I can barely hear you. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are about 10 feet away from the first of the Hawkeye plane which has just come in. Actually, we are standing with one of the people we talked to earlier with this (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There is no sense in trying to talk right now, because we can barely hear you though.

But what we have is the first of the planes right in back of me of the squadron (UNINTELLIGIBLE). These are the first planes to land (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the squadron of F-14s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) naval and air base. These are the planes that are coming in advance of the aircraft carrier, Theodore Roosevelt. The Roosevelt is going to steam into the port tomorrow with altogether about 7,000 crewmembers, ships and support ships and the airplanes that have been to sea for more than six months. As a matter of fact, this is in advance (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in advance of the arrival of the families of -- members of the families and the people who are in the squadron are waiting here, waiting here to see their loved ones for the first time in six months. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Carol, as you saw earlier, we talked to the mother of a baby whose father has not seen his child yet. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) want to find out the strong emotions that are going to accompany that. While there have been families waiting for this moment for so long, even those who are used to this say that it's such a long wait. And of course this particular deployment was the worst for many of them, because this was an actual wartime deployment as opposed to those that many have experienced.

But now what we have is this squadron of Hawkeye planes. The Hawkeye is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what they called it. The Hawkeye is the Navy version of the surveillance planes, the small (UNINTELLIGIBLE) surveillance planes. Now ironically, even with all of its ability, all of its radars, all of its potential to penetrate, to get information, these planes were not able to beat the fog which, in fact, shut this airport down for a couple of hours. These planes are really two hours late, so it has been after more than six months, a little bit longer wait for the members of the families who are having trouble (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to so many of those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are going to have to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) again and families that have to get back together and of course, very, very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who are making their little (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to land.

What it is interesting, the fog suddenly burned off. They have been hovering off the coast, waiting for the fog (UNINTELLIGIBLE) land the planes at a nearby airport, so they did a fly over. By the time they did it showed that the fog had gone and it was clear. They wasted absolutely no time getting to see (UNINTELLIGIBLE) clapping their hands, mothers and husbands sometimes, and children, all coming (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LIN: All right, Bob, don't mean to be rude. We are struggling to listen to you, but we are hoping that these pictures are worth, well, more than a thousand words. Bob really giving us a lot of background here on the air wing of the USS Roosevelt, the ship which is also returning home, but you are looking at some of the families who are able to greet some of their loved ones, the crewmembers of the air wing of these Navy Hawkeye airplanes. And you can just see the anticipation on their faces.

And one of the shots we showed you earlier was the woman who gave birth to a baby, who is now six months old. The father returning home hasn't even seen his child. This was their second child, and she said it was a really anxiously anticipated second child. So that's going to be a really special homecoming indeed.

OK, Bob Franken, we're going to give it another shot, you being so intrepid to try to get so close to those planes where we can hardly hear you. I think I can hear you better now.

FRANKEN: Well, you don't have to shout, Carol.

LIN: Excuse me. I'm so sorry.

FRANKEN: A silence has descended on the airfield. It is broken up quite a bit, of course, by the cheers from the families. We have been talking throughout the day with the one in particular family -- you can hear the cheers right now. I think I just want to pause for a moment.

LIN: Bob, that's the family of Mike Mahalec (ph).

FRANKEN: That's right. That's right.

LIN: CNN's technical director there. We have a personal connection here...

FRANKEN: Well, look at that.

LIN: ... with Operation Enduring Freedom.

FRANKEN: Look at that. This is the Rasmussen family. Oh, we, of course, talked to them earlier.

LIN: Oh. I don't suppose they are thinking about the fact they are making out on national television, now, are they?

FRANKEN: No, I don't think they are thinking about that at all. I think that they have been thinking about this moment for such a long time. And now you see Ken Rasmussen, who is looking at his baby, Morgan, for the first time since September 19, when he left. He is a lieutenant commander in his squadron.

LIN: And lots of tears there.

FRANKEN: Oh, look at that.

LIN: Oh, shaking hands like a good military man. All right.

FRANKEN: Well, these boys, I don't know if you saw them earlier, they are really -- how shall I put it -- quite lively. They have an awful lot of personality.

LIN: Oh, Bob. How did these families get along without their husbands and wives all this time, Bob? It must have been really tough, especially for those who had just given birth.

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, we talked to a family earlier, and the wife said that not only was her baby born when her husband was away, but there were complications -- significant complications, as a matter of fact, where the baby had to be in critical care for just a while. That was Jonah, and now, however, the baby is healthy. The father is going to be seeing for the first time his child, his second child actually. It's going to be quite an adjustment, quite an emotional moment. And it's something that everybody is very excited about.

We see now, Karen Rasmussen and of course, the father, Ken, holding his little one-year-old. We talked to them earlier, and we had the boys, Jeremy and Austin.

Welcome home, Commander.


FRANKEN: What a moment, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. This is awesome -- glad to be home.

FRANKEN: She seems to be taking to this all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She seems to be doing pretty well. I'm just not sure if she knows who I am, but that will come with time.

FRANKEN: Well, it looks like she knows somehow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, she does. It's great to be home, and I'm glad to do our part out there.

FRANKEN: Yes, but I bet you have thought about this time a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we have, especially the past few hours. We have been sitting out there waiting for the weather to clear up a little bit.

FRANKEN: I bet that was awful. Karen, you talked to us earlier.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I did. I did. And this has just been really great to have him home. The wait was long, but it was -- you know, just the last few anxious moments.

FRANKEN: How do you guys stay in touch?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of e-mail, some letters and a few phone calls, but e-mail works out pretty well. So we kept in touch that way a lot.

FRANKEN: So how many seconds do you think it'll take you to adjust here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's going to take me a few months, I think, to get back into the swing of things, and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a quick adjustment, and then a slow adjustment, where you get adjusted to living together again.

FRANKEN: Well, we have somebody here who wants to be on television.


FRANKEN: Anyway, I want to congratulate you, and of course, a grateful nation thanks you. Thank you very much for the time that you spent with us too.


FRANKEN: Congratulations.


FRANKEN: Enjoy your reunion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Glad to be home.

FRANKEN: Goodbye. And of course, this story, as we have been telling it throughout the day, is a story that is being repeated as each plane lands, and the families rush out to greet their loved ones. It's a beautiful sight. It's really something that you can't put into words, but I think it's something that just seeing it is what most of us would understand -- Carol.

LIN: Bob, this is very different than a normal deployment, isn't it? I mean, these are families who are used to being separated for long periods of time, but this time around, it must have been really tough to let go September 19 when they left, deployed.

FRANKEN: Well, any number of people talked to us about that and saying that in the past for the most part, they were not being sent out under wartime conditions. Of course there have been sporadic exceptions but this one, because of the scale of the September 11 attacks and all of that kind of thing, put the fear into many of the people who might have gotten used to this.

So, yes, this was the worst one, but of course, just the fact of the separation is a bit of a bit of a problem. And the fact of the matter is, that this separation lasted for a variety reasons a little bit longer than the normal six months. And then, of course, there were those extra couple of hours, those extra couple of hours when the planes couldn't land because of the fog. And that was probably the longest period of time for many of the people who are waiting here.

LIN: The air wing that we are looking at right now, Bob, what was their primary mission in Afghanistan? Where did they find themselves?

FRANKEN: Well, they are what I would call mini AWACs. I am sure that the Navy people are not going to be happy to see them called that. These are Hawkeye planes. They are reconnaissance planes, surveillance planes. They are just loaded with electronic equipment, as what they like to call the pizza dish on top, or the screw top as this squadron was called.

In any case, their job was a similar one, to penetrate some of the radio signals, all of the electronic kind of penetration that these planes are built to do, very expensive planes. This is, I will tell you, just part of the group of planes that is aboard the Theodore Roosevelt. Let's not forget that we are seeing here is a preview of coming attractions on a much larger scale, when the Roosevelt, which is a massive aircraft carrier, which has been gone from its port here since September 19, will be steaming back tomorrow about this time of day, maybe a little bit earlier. It is going to be steaming back to Norfolk, and there, it's going to be greeted by thousands of family members. There are going to be thousands of crewmembers aboard the Roosevelt...

LIN: Right.

FRANKEN: ... who will be recreating scenes like this.

LIN: Yes, you bet. Tomorrow, I think we are expecting them back.


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