GROTON, Conn. - A few days before his submarine returned to Connecticut, Petty Officer 2nd Class Arrell Cavanaugh was called for a meeting with the vessel's senior enlisted sailor. He figured it was for something bad or, as it turned out, something very good: His wife had given birth to their daughter.
On Friday, Cavanaugh met his daughter for the first time at a pier in Groton, where the attack submarine USS Missouri returned after completing a six-month deployment.
"She's so little," Cavanaugh, 22, said as he cradled the 5-day-old infant, Ea Christine. "I don't want to break her."
The attack submarine, one of the most advanced in the Navy fleet, conducted missions involving surveillance and reconnaissance in an area of operations around Europe on its maiden overseas deployment. Submarines come and go every few months at Naval Submarine Base New London, but for some the timing just before Christmas made the Missouri's arrival on a mild December day especially festive.
As the submarine made its way up the Thames River to the base, Cavanaugh's wife, Genevieve, said she was eager to introduce her daughter and reunite her husband with their 16-month-old son, who had taken his first steps during the deployment.
"I'm set for Christmas. I'm just like, 'Dude, you're home.' I'm good," she said.
The nuclear-powered submarine, which has a crew of more than 130 officers and sailors, departed June 18 and visited ports in Scotland, England and Norway. The Navy typically reveals little publicly about submarine operations, but the commander of a Groton-based submarine group, Rear Adm. Kenneth Perry, offered praise for the work of the submarine's top officer, Cmdr. Mike Luckett, and its crew in support of national security interests.
"He and his crew have done a superb job," Perry said at the pier, where he greeted families waiting for a glimpse of the black submarine.
The Virginia-class submarine was commissioned in Groton in 2010. It is the fifth Navy ship named in honor of the state of Missouri.
As the sailors climbed off the submarine, the 16-month-old son of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jake Wilson was initially reluctant to leave his mother's arms. The toddler, Jacinth, had learned to say "dada" and talked with his father over Skype during the deployment, but didn't seem eager to hug his father.
"It's the reaction I was expecting," said Wilson, 27. "It's maybe not the reaction I was hoping for."
With a few minutes, the boy was playing in his father's arms.