VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP/WAVY) - Hampton Roads has hosted so many Navy Homecomings, they are too numerous to count.
But what unfolded at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story today has never been seen before.
Two women sailors became the first to share the "first kiss" on the pier after one of them returned from an 80-day deployment. This is the first time a same-sex couple has participated in this tradition since the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" rule.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, Calif., descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship and shared a quick kiss in the rain with her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles. Gaeta, 23, wore her Navy dress uniform while Snell, 22, wore a black leather jacket, scarf and blue jeans. The crowd screamed and waved flags around them.
"I feel good about it. It's nice to be able to be myself. Ah, it's been a long time coming. I've been in for almost two and a half years and this is very recent the changes have come into effect and it's been nothing but positives." Gaeta said.
"I think it's great that we can actually be open about our relationships since we both are in the military. We did have to hide it a lot in the beginning," says Snell. "Oak Hill sailors on the pier that we spoke with said they had no problem with the first kiss although some were more supportive than others."
Sailors have raffled off the coveted first kiss for almost as long as they have been returning from sea but this is the first time since the military repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" regulation that two women openly shared that kiss.
"Yeah. I think it's awesome," says Navy wife Jamie Grigolite. "Absolutely! That's so, they're in love that's amazing."
For the historical significance of the kiss, there was little to differentiate it from countless others when a Navy ship pulls into its home port following a deployment. Neither the Navy nor the couple tried to draw attention to what was happening and many onlookers waiting for their loved ones to come off the ship were busy talking among themselves.
David Bauer, the commanding officer of the USS Oak Hill, said that Gaeta and Snell's kiss would largely be a non-event and the crew's reaction upon learning who was selected to have the first kiss was positive.
"It's going to happen and the crew's going to enjoy it. We're going to move on and it won't overshadow the great things that this crew has accomplished over the past three months," Bauer said.
Both women are Navy fire controlmen, who maintain and operate weapons systems on ships. They met at training school where they were roommates and have been dating for two years, which they said was difficult under "don't ask, don't tell."
"We did have to hide it a lot in the beginning," Snell said. "A lot of people were not always supportive of it in the beginning, but we can finally be honest about who we are in our relationship, so I'm happy."
Navy officials said it was the first time on record that a same-sex couple was chosen to kiss first upon a ship's return. Sailors and their loved ones bought $1 raffle tickets for the opportunity. Gaeta said she bought $50 of tickets, a figure that she said pales in comparison to amounts that some other sailors and their loved ones had bought. The money was used to host a Christmas party for the children of sailors.
Snell said she believes their experience won't be the last one for gays and lesbians in the military.
"I think that it's something that is going to open a lot of doors, for not just our relationship, but all the other gay and lesbian relationships that are in the military now," she said.
Snell is based on the USS Bainbridge, the guided missile destroyer that helped rescue cargo captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates in 2009.
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