Team of FA-18 Hornet Pilots Returns to San Diego After Long Deployment

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A legendary chapter in Military history was closed Thursday after 11 Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets took off from the deck of USS Nimitz and headed home to San Diego.

The team marked the end of an area -- they were the last deployment of the F/A-18 Hornets on a Navy aircraft carrier before the Marines transition to F-35 jets.

Thursday was also a big day for the pilots and their families.

“The girls haven’t seen their daddy’s face since before Christmas,” said Susan Toft. Toft’s three daughters wore matching lace dresses in red, white and blue as they rushed toward the flight line at MCAS Miramar to see their dad.

“It’s surreal,” said Capt. Kegan Toft as he headed home to spend time with his family.

Home isn’t what it used to be. Squadron VMFA-323, known as the Death Rattlers, was deployed just as COVID-19 was forcing major changes in our way of life. The squadron left early, in part, because they were healthy and ready to go. The deployment was supposed to end before Christmas, but it got extended twice because of tensions in Iran.

The pilots’ families had to adjust to lockdowns, home-schooling, distancing and mask wearing, and now the pilots will get a taste of what it’s like.

“It’s gonna be a huge adjustment,” said Hannah Davis. She and other spouses told us COVID-19 impacted the pilots differently. They had to wear masks while aboard USS Nimitz and weren’t allowed port visits, making communication with their loved ones spotty.

Susan Toft recalled a conversation with her husband where he said he’d like to take the girls to Disneyland when he got home.

“I was like, Disney’s been closed for like 5 months,” she said, adding that her husband doesn’t realize how limited day-to-day life is back home.

“We’ve been getting briefed for weeks now, kind of what to expect,” said Capt. Toft. “For right now all I really care to do is just stay at home and catch up with the family… I think that’s still allowed in the COVID world.”

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