Friday, June 5, 2015

Welcome Home, Carl Vinson

Almost 10 months ago I stood on family beach at Point Mugu and watched a group of my dear friends and their kids wave goodbye to their husbands and daddies. They knew it was going to be a long deployment; one of the longest carrier deployments since Vietnam. And with the majority of the fight with ISIS being limited to air power, they knew their husbands were flying into the fight.

It was a strange experience standing on the beach with them. I was invited to capture those moments, but I still felt like I needed to keep a safe distance. Like an unwanted fly on the wall I was invading their intimate moment. I was going to go home to my husband, they weren't. What the hell was I doing there? So I stood way back, dug myself in the sand, and happened to get the lucky shot above.

Goodbyes seem to be more private than Hellos in the military. We all think about the homecomings; we love those photos, YouTube videos, and articles. Even though only 1% of the country serves in the military, 100% have watched the heartwarming surprise homecomings and reunions on television. But as they fly away, as a plane or ship becomes a black dot on the horizon, most have never seen or contemplated in their day to day lives. You don't see many photos of families sitting on the beach watching a ship steam away. It's sad. And as a military spouse myself, I find photographing the comings and goings of military personnel very draining. I've been where they are, I will be where they are again.

Wednesday morning, after what seems like yesterday and a million years ago at the same time, I was lucky enough to photograph the fly in of the VAW 116 Sun Kings. Because Point Mugu is the ultimate military fish bowl (love it or hate it!), I have gotten to see many friends go through countless ups and downs this past 9 months. They have all done amazing things and really thrived. They have all had days where they wanted to throw stuff and drink all the wine.

Some of the kids have grown so much that they are almost unrecognizable; something that makes me so sad that I can barely write about it. My own husband has left a small baby and come home to a toddler. It really is one of the most bittersweet moments describable when a service member comes home to a child that he or she misses desperately, but that baby has grown and changed. Time does not stand still.

Homecomings themselves can be bittersweet. They are happy, but they are also sad in their own way. They are a relief from anxiety and worry but a reminder that not everyone gets homecoming. And they are the beginnings of reintegration, a piece of deployment that all too often isn't discussed or taught. Photographing homecoming shouldn't be about getting "happy happy happy" (which is often how the media portrays it). It should be about attempting to illustrate the immense emotional experience that happens when your loved one returns from war. It is messy and complicated and beautiful.




Happy homecoming, VAW 116, Carrier Air Wing 17, USS Carl Vinson, and Carrier Strike Group 1. 
All photos Copyright of Jill Qualters
Please write for permission to re-print.

Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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