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22 November 2013, 15:02
There was a warm welcome home for the crew of HMS Dragon in Portsmouth after an eight month deployment in the Indian Ocean and eastern Med.
Tears of joy were shed by family members as their loved ones returned home following an extended deployment on one of the Royal Navy's most advanced warships.
HMS Dragon sailed into Portsmouth Naval Base after its mission was extended by a month as it was diverted to protect the UK military bases in Cyprus during recent increased tensions over Syria.
The Type 45 destroyer had been on maritime security and anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf when it was sent to Cyprus to provide air defence and air surveillance for warships in the area.
Captain Iain Lower, the ship's commanding officer, said:
"As HMS Dragon returns after her first ever deployment I am immensely proud of what my ship's company have achieved in the last eight months.
"Dragon's success is testament to the agility and hard work of all her people who, building on the fine work of her predecessors, have set the standard for integration with our allies particularly with the United States Navy. When taken alongside the challenging environmental conditions and engineering and logistical complexities, I am very proud of the team.''
Chief Petty Officer Lee Hampton, from Portsmouth, was welcomed home by his nine-week-old son Dante and his wife, Petty Officer Abby Hampton. CPO Hampton had been flown home for the birth of his son but had only two weeks to spend with him before having to return to the ship. He said:
"It is absolutely amazing, eight months, nearly all the pregnancy I missed, they managed to let me go back for two weeks for the birth of my first son and now to see him back on the jetty, he's almost double the size already.
"I can't wait to get home with the family, I'm really looking forward to it and to be home for Christmas, that really means a lot.''
"It will be fantastic to have him home after leaving me with a two-week-old baby, I feel more sorry for him missing out more than me, I am navy as well so I understand more than some.
"It will be fantastic to have him home for Christmas.''
Lauren Bray, with her children Thomas, six, and Phoebe, three, were on the jetty to meet Lieutenant Commander Andrew Bray, the ship's logistics officer.
Mrs Bray, from Fareham, said:
"I am really pleased for him to be here, two months ago they were extended, basically he was due home on October 18 and they weren't and we didn't know when they were going to come home.
"It was awful, we understand that's their job but the not knowing was the hardest bit and it's so lovely to have him home for Christmas, it will be a lovely Christmas.''
Lt Cdr Bray said:
"Like my fellow ship mates, we are absolutely delighted to be home, it's been a long eight months and I'm really pleased to be home from Dragon's first deployment.''
The youngest crew member, 20-year-old Engineering Technician Grant Mitchell, said:
"It is a great feeling to be coming home after all we have done as a ship's company in the last eight months. Working with so many other countries' navies and visiting so many places has been a great experience.''
During the deployment, HMS Dragon travelled more than 50,000 nautical miles and visited most of the Gulf states including Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.
A Royal Navy spokesman said:
"The Type 45 destroyer's maiden deployment included maritime security and counter piracy patrols in the Gulf and operations in the Mediterranean as part of the UK response to the recent crisis in Middle East. Dragon was deployed off Cyprus to help protect the two sovereign base areas on the island which are home to more than 6,000 British service personnel and their families.
"Dragon combined with RAF units to generate a constant picture of activity in the region as part of the air defence effort.''
The ship's return to the Hampshire base was marked with a flypast by a Typhoon fighter jet and the ship fired a 17-gun salute.