After seven months at sea, more than 1,500 combat operation sorties, two run-ins with pirates and one Osama bin Laden burial, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson returned to Naval Base Coronado Wednesday.
More than 5,500 sailors disembarked the vessel and were immediately greeted by their spouses, children, friends and other family members, many of who cheered and waved homemade signs.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is the flagship for Carrier Strike Group 1, which includes guided-missile destroyers and cruisers and a helicopter anti-submarine squadron.
Rear Adm. Samuel Perez, the strike group's commander, said the crewmembers were the "most talented sailors I've ever been with."
"It was a phenomenal deployment, and I'm absolutely proud to be part of this group," he said.
The Carl Vinson gained international fame in May after it was reported its crew performed the burial at sea for Osama bin Laden. Perez said security concerns prevented him from discussing any part of the burial operation, which he called a historical "asterisk."
"But when this crew looks inside, there's no doubt each and every one of us is proud to be part of that asterisk," he said.
He also said during the first week of May, when the burial was performed, "everybody was pretty stoked."
The ship's role in the burial also heightened its security concerns, preventing it from stopping in as many ports as would usually occur during deployments.
For that reason, the Green Bay Packers, the San Diego Padres and the comedian Paul "Wee Man" Acuna visited the ship. The crew was also granted a "beer holiday" of two beers apiece, a notable occurrence for the usually dry Navy ship.
Mike Richards, who worked as a medic aboard the Carl Vinson, was one of the thousands of sailors greeted by their families. He said his two young daughters, Kaitlyn and Brooke, were bigger than he remembered, and that being apart from them and his wife Jennifer was the hardest part of the tour.
A San Diego resident, Richards said he was most excited to go home, rest and eat.
But the contents of the sailor's first non-Navy meal in seven months remained unclear.
"I asked, but he wouldn't tell me what he wanted," Jennifer said.