PEARL HARBOR (Feb. 13, 2012) Sailors aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) man the rails as the ship returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam following a nearly eight-month deployment to the 7th Fleet and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham)

PEARL HARBOR (NNS) - Guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) returned to a large crowd and rousing cheers Feb. 13, the day before Valentine's Day, after an almost eight-month deployment.

"I feel absolutely great to be back," said Capt. Eric Weilenman, commanding officer of the Port Royal. "It's always good to get back home, and I know the crew's excited."

Sailors in their summer whites, manned the rails as the ship pulled into port, while families and friends lined the pier. Mothers, fathers, wives and children searched anxiously for their loved ones, while homemade signs glittered in the sun.

Port Royal, with a crew of more than 300, returned from an independent deployment to the western Pacific and U.S. Central Command areas of responsibility. The ship deployed June 24.

"They've been excited [about coming home] for a long time," said Weilenman, whose parents and wife were in attendance.

Port Royal was the final ship to assume command of commander, Task Group Iraqi Maritime (CTG-IM), supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in the western Pacific and U.S. Central Command AOR.

Port Royal was therefore instrumental in the handover of Al Basrah Oil Terminal (ABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT) during the final transition for Operation New Dawn.

"It's a great chapter in American history, quite frankly," Weilenman said. "That infrastructure is going to help them in the future, and we're just glad to have been a part of it."

As a band played upbeat music, five new fathers made their way off the ship to see their babies for the first time.

"It feels great," said Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Namon Richardson about coming back home to Hawaii. "It's been a long time coming. I've been in contact with my family throughout the deployment, but it's just a sight to see them and it's pretty emotional. We're glad to be back home."

The crew managed to grow together, according to Weilenmen. Over the nearly eight-month deployment, the Port Royal went from an essentially brand new crew to a group of experienced professionals.

"I can feel the energy just coming back home today, could feel it really for quite a while before we came back," Weilenman said. "Hawaii is a beautiful place to call home, and I'm glad to be back."

Guided-missile cruisers are multi-mission, anti-air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, long-range strike and anti-surface warfare combatants. They are capable of supporting carrier and expeditionary strike groups, amphibious forces, or operating independently.