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Military Families from Bahrain Arrive in Norfolk

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Kimberly Kittleson, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

NORFOLK, Va., July 12, 2004 – About 275 family members of U.S. military and Defense Department personnel living in Bahrain have arrived at the Air Mobility Command terminal at Naval Station Norfolk after being evacuated from Bahrain due to the risk of terrorist attacks.

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Evacuated families board their flight for home as Rear Adm. Daniel S. Mastagni, vice commander of Navy Region Europe, provides some words of encouragement to some of the children boarding the aircraft July 10. Mastagni spoke with many of the family members during their brief stay at Naval Support Activity, Naples, Italy. Photo By Petty Officer 2nd Class Lenny Francioni, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The first group of about 75 arrived in Norfolk July 10, followed by about 200 July 11. The rest were scheduled to arrive during the course of the following week.

Many will or have spent only a short time in Norfolk before moving on to stay with family or friends. Others will take the Navy up on its offer of temporary lodging until it is safe to return to their homes.

For many, these are uncertain times. They can only guess when they will be able to return to their loved ones overseas. Their travel orders indicated they'd be away from their homes for 30 days or longer. Leaders at the Department of Defense will make a determination as to when the families may be allowed return.

In the meantime, the Navy has made every effort to make the families comfortable and their processing move along without a hitch.

With their passports and documents in hand, family members were sent rapidly through customs and transported by bus to the processing center on base. There, they were welcomed by the Hampton Roads military community.

Military members; the USO; representatives from Morale, Welfare and Recreation; and many other volunteers offered snacks and drinks to the exhausted families and assisted them in the first steps of their relocation process.

Children were given a "welcome home" teddy bear, and the Child Development Homes' staff took care of the children while parents were checked in and briefed.

"We take care of the children so moms and dads can concentrate on what they need to get done," said Gina Jones, director of Child Development Homes. "They have a lot to think about and don't need the distraction right now."

As family members gathered in the auditorium, they were briefed on in- processing procedures and what to expect in the upcoming month.

"Things are set up to flow smoothly for these family members," said Capt. Shawn Morrissey, the Navy's Mid-Atlantic Region operations officer. "We have military escorts to answer any questions they many have and to help these family members get in and out of here as quickly as possible. But we don't want them to leave here with any unanswered questions."

The Fleet and Family Support Center staff was on hand to help in any way they could, "whether in relocation, financial assistance, outreach, we want to help," said Cathy Robertson, site manager for the center. "It's our mission to help military and families and it's been a great team effort to assist in this time of crisis."

While some family members were not happy with the situation, there was every indication they were pleased with the treatment they received in Norfolk.

"The operation here has been so supportive," said Larry Larsson, 48, a DoD employee with the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet. "I was really impressed, they have done an outstanding job, very professional, and the hospitality and information was top-notch.

"It's unfortunate we have to go through something like this," Larsson continued, "but the people here are really friendly, doing a great job, and made it very easy."

But, for many families, going through such a process, no matter how efficient, was something they'd rather have avoided.

"I just moved to Bahrain May 29, so I just got there and had to come back," said Kris, who elected not to give her last name, "I didn't want to leave my husband and pets so soon."

But, she said, "I do have to say, the process of coming back here was much easier than going over there."

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Related Sites:
Naval Station Norfolk, Va.
State Department Background Notes on Bahrain

Related Articles:
Rumsfeld Approves Family, Worker Relocation From Bahrain

Click photo for screen-resolution imageRear Adm. Daniel S. Mastagni, vice commander of Navy Region Europe, speaks with one of several families evacuated from Bahrain during their brief stay in the airport at Naval Support Activity, Naples, Italy, July 10. Families received a formal departure order July 4, and returned to the United States through the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. The Pentagon, following credible information that extremists were planning attacks in Bahrain, ordered the temporary evacuation of families of sailors, Marines and other military personnel. Photo By Petty Officer 2nd Class Lenny Francioni, USN  
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