Jarrod Wetherington came home from the Arabian Sea and the fighting in Afghanistan Friday evening. [June 28, 2002]
For the past seven months the 21-year-old Englewood, Fla. sailor has been part of this country’s war on terrorism. He served as an F-18 Hornet fighter plane captain aboard the carrier USS John C. Stennis.
The Stennis is a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier, the largest war ship afloat. It’s almost the length of four football fields, weighs 97,000 tons. With its nuclear engines it can cruise indefinitely.
Shortly before 7 p.m. a red car with Jarrod, his father Gary, mother Kathy and a younger sister, Katie, pulled into their driveway on Chard Terrace in Gulf Cove. A bevy of smiling grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and a younger brother gathered around the auto with cameras poised waiting for their sailor to emerge.
Out stepped the focus of their attention, a somewhat bewildered tall, lean young man with short-cropped dark hair. They engulfed him with their love. One by one family members took the sailor in their arms for a moment, smiled and whispered a greeting.
Before he arrived the family had decorated the front yard and the house with a profusion of red, white and blue flags, bows and placards.
“Welcome Home Jarrod, God Bless America” on a blue and yellow banner hooked to a couple of white plastic posts in the middle of the front yard. The screened front porch had three American flags draped from each section of screen. There was red, white and blue bunting across the bottom of the porch and another American flag on a staff near the front door. The garage door was covered in red, white and blue material and there were red, white and blue twinkle lights flashing from a cluster in the center of the door.
In the front window was a rectangular red, white and blue display showing a blue star on a field of white bordered in red. It signifies the Wetheringtons have a son in the service.
Seaman Jarrod Wetherington was getting an all American home coming from his family. They were proud of him and what he was doing for his country.
He walked from the car through the crowd of well wishers to the front door carrying his black sea bag. It was obvious the sailor was happy to be home.
For almost seven months Jarrod had been at sea aboard the Stennis helping keep the carrier’s armada in the air over Afghanistan. The ship was stationed in the Arabian Sea. Its aircraft were fighting the Taliban and al Qaida terrorist in the torn country.
As a brown-shirted F-18 plane captain, his job was to make sure the fighter he was assigned to was fueled and serviced properly before it flew off the Stennis’ deck. When it returned from its mission, Jarrod gave the F-18 a quick inspection looking for damage.
“It’s a pretty dangerous job. The longer you’re on deck the more dangerous it is,” he said as he relaxed in a green plastic chair at home on the front porch. “On my first cruise I made the mistake of trying to run behind an E2C Hawkeye prop jet when it was on the catapult revving up its engines to take off. The prop wash blew me off my feet and plastered me up against an F-18 sitting near by. I was scared pretty bad but I wasn’t hurt.
“It was a good experience,” he added. “You learn fast not to do that again.”
After graduation from Lemon Bay High School in Englewood in 1999, he joined the Navy.
“I wanted the experience and the $30,000 for college I’m supposed to get when I complete my four-year hitch. I think my time in the Navy has done me a lot of good,” he said.
“I’ve met a lot of different people I would have never come across. And I’ve gotten to see a lot of different places,” the young sailor explained. “I’ve been to Australia, Malaysia and the Arabian Sea on tours aboard the Stennis.
The Stennis’ home port is Lemoore, Calif. It’s along the Pacific coast in the central part of the state, west of Fresno.
In the living room of the Wetherington home is an artificial Christmas tree covered with red, white and blue bows and red, white and blue garland. Below the tree are brightly wrapped Christmas packages for Jarrod. Included in the gifts is a jug of spiced rum.
He missed the last three Christmases at home. And he hasn’t been home in 18 months. The family hoped to provide him with a little yule time sprite to make up for his losses over the past several years.
As Jarrod settled in, the family gathered on the back porch around a big white table talking quietly with their sailor while sipping a cool one. Life is good.
For the next two weeks he will get to explore th joys of civilian life again. On July 16 Jarrod will return to the west coast, possibly to a new assignment aboard the USS Carl Vincent, another Nimitz Class carrier based in Washington state.
“I don’t plan to make a career out of the Navy,” he said. “When my hitch is up, I definitely plan to return home and go to college. It’s kind of hard to say what I’ll major in right now.”
For the next few days his mom and dad, brother and sister will enjoy every minute of his leave.
“I don’t want him to go back,” Katie, his sister, and three years his junior, said with a smile. “When he’s not around there’s nobody to fight with.
Name: Jarrod Wetherington
Hometown: Englewood, Fla.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1999
Battles/Campaigns: War in Afghanistan
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, June 30, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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