Families, Friends Welcome Fighter Squadron Home

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. David Speicher
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
Hundreds of friends, family and other well wishers gathered at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Saturday to welcome home members of the Maryland Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Squadron, which was returning from an Air Expeditionary Force rotation supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

The gathered crowd cheered every uniformed member of the armed forces on the chartered Department of Defense flight as they stepped through the arrival gate, whether they were members of the local unit or not.

The unit's Afghan deployment was successful with no casualities suffered, according to Col. Scott L. Kelly, commander of the 175th Wing, the unit to which the 104th is assigned.

It took about an hour and a half to process the 148 Airmen through BWI's Customs and Border Patrol facility. Twelve Airmen from the 104th's home station, Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Md., assisted by collecting weapons, conducting roll call and distributing the schedule of post-deployment events. The members completed additional post-deployment processing Sunday.

Capt. Lewis Warner, the wing's deployment manager,  was in charge of the process.  "To see them leave is hard, but watching them reunited with their families is worthwhile. I love doing this," he said.

The men and women spent the past three months working under sometimes-difficult conditions in Afghanistan. On Superbowl Sunday, for example, they experienced a flash flood that sent knee-high water rushing through their tents. But the unit didn't allow the floodwaters to prevent them from accomplishing the mission, and flight operations continued even as some of the deployed Guardsmen were cleaning up tents and work areas as the water receded.

Although those on hand to greet returning members included friends, spouses, parents, and siblings, some of the most poignant greetings came from the children of returning Guardsmen.

Joey and Nicole Cook, son and wife of Tech. Sgt. Randall Cook, waited patiently an hour after the first Airmen were reunited with their loved ones.

Joey had made a sign with his hand prints that read "Welcome Home Daddy." When he finally saw his father, the four-year-old ran down the entranceway to his father with the sign. His father knelt down and gave the child a long hug. When Joey asked, "Daddy, where have you been?" His father was silent and just held him tightly as his wife approached and the family was once again complete.

Johnny MacAlister, son of the deployed commander, Lt. Col. Patrick MacAlister, was wished a happy birthday as he welcomed home his father. He is currently a sophmore at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. His father, an alumni of the academy, made it home today just in time for his birthday. Colonel MacAlister's younger son, Kyle, was emotional and held his father especially tight after his mother, Tatjana, was first to greet her husband.

Master Sgt. Ronald L. Bolt's wife and child were especially happy to see him. He was one of the last Airman to step through the gate.  Julie Bolt watched her husband's smile grow larger and larger as he held his two-and-half-year-old daughter, Rachel, who was holding a "Frosty the Snowman" stuffed toy on an unusually warm day. The stuffed animal played a recorded message her father had made, which she had listened to over and over again while he was away.

The maintainers, pilots and support personnel had been executing close air support missions in Afghanistan since New Year's Day. The fighter squadron flies the A-10C Thunderbolt II, which supports ground forces in contact with the enemy. Although most of them will now return to their civilian jobs and one-weekend-a-month training schedule, a few Airmen have remained at the deployed location to ensure a smooth transition for unit that replaced them, and will return in the near future.