USS Vandegrift deploys to Central America

SAN DIEGO - The Navy frigate that brought home a family that became stranded off the coast of Mexico last month left its San Diego home port Friday for an independent deployment to Central and South America.

The guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift and its crew of about 200 sailors will combat drug trafficking by organized crime in coastal waters, according to the Navy. An anti-drug trafficking Coast Guard team and helicopter crew will also be aboard the Vandegrift for its mission.

"My officers and crew are ready and fully prepared as we head out to conduct this very important mission with our maritime partner nations," said Cmdr. Luis Alva, commanding officer of the Vandegrift.

Last month, a 36-foot sailboat belonging to a San Diego family on a leg of a round-the-world voyage lost its steering, and their year-old daughter got sick.

A four-man team from the Bay Area-based 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard parachuted into the ocean to board the drifting sailboat. Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, the sick infant Lyra and their other daughter, 3-year-old Cora, were subsequently transferred to the Vandegrift in an operation that attracted national attention.

The Vandegrift is named for the late General Alexander Vandegrift, a Medal of Honor recipient who led Marines in the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II and later served as 18th commandant of the United States Marine Corp.

The sendoff wasn't easy for Anthony Perminter's wife, Paula. She grew up in a military family, but you could see tears streaming down her face.

"It's a little hard, but you know, you've got to stay strong," Permenter said as she wiped her eyes. "He's going out, and he's going to do what he wanted to do."

"I haven't had good experiences with deployment, but I've just got to have faith, stay strong," she added.

She had stay strong because her best friend wasn't there to comfort her.

"I had a sister who was in the Army, and unfortunately she didn't come home," she added.

The last time she saw her sister was when she deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.

"That's what she wanted to do with life, so I'm just glad that she got to accomplish what she wanted to accomplish," she explained.

She has faith her husband will be back.

"He's coming home," Permenter said. "He better be here!"

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