CORONADO, Calif. -- Relatives and friends, some in tears, hugged crewmen of the USS John C. Stennis on Monday before the aircraft carrier set sail to support the military action in Afghanistan.
Sailors stood at ease around the edges of the nuclear-powered carrier's deck, which stretches the length of three football fields, as the Stennis moved away from its dock into San Diego Bay.
After saying goodbye to members of the Stennis' crew of about 5,500, hundreds of well-wishers ranging from grandparents to infants waved from behind a fence at North Island Naval Air Station, many of them holding American flags.
"I'm very proud that these men and women of our armed forces are going in deployment to defend our nation. We wish them all success in their mission," said Willis Newton, 75, of Oceanside, a retired minister and former military chaplain in Vietnam.
The Stennis is the centerpiece of a 10-ship battle group that will spend six months in the Persian Gulf. Other ships in the group -- with a total of about 8,500 Navy and Marine personnel -- were sailing from other locations. They were being joined by a Canadian frigate, the HMCS Vancouver, with a crew of 224.