PACIFIC OCEAN --
PACIFIC OCEAN – In their 30th and final week of deployment, hundreds of service members brought 397 guests aboard three U.S. ships April 7 for a homeward transit from Hawaii to Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed in September 2009 to the Western Pacific and Middle East and picked up the guests in Pearl Harbor on its return voyage.
Reunited friends and family members on USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Cleveland and USS Rushmore sampled the seagoing life, saw the Navy and Marine Corps team in action, and observed workaday routines.
Pilots aboard USS Bonhomme Richard put on an aviation demonstration, displaying maneuvering and firing capabilities of helicopters and harrier jets.
"I’ve seen air shows before, but I’ve never seen them this close," said Evan J. Ackermann, father of Cpl. Kyle J. Ackermann, a cannoneer with Battery A. "It was impressive watching a harrier vertically take off. It’s something you could never see anywhere else."
Evan said his visit gave him a better understanding of how his son’s life had been on USS Rushmore, from sleeping in cramped quarters to walking about a constantly rocking ship.
Cpl. Ackermann, a Mt. Vernon, Wash., native, showed his father the howitzer he trained with in the Middle East.
"I heard about this equipment before, but I never saw it up close," said Evan. "There’s nothing like getting a personal tour from your son. It’s the only way to do it, especially since he knows all the inside information."
Having a guest prompted Cpl. Ackermann to explore never-seen parts of the ship. "I’ve been on this ship seven months and am (still) learning things," said Cpl. Ackermann.
The unit is scheduled to return April 13.