48th Fighter Wing troops return from terror fight
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — As the moment drew nearer Saturday when more than 200 troops from the 48th Fighter Wing would return from a three-month deployment to the Middle East, the crowd at the planned reception grew, along with the air of anticipation.
And when the first bus arrived from the flight line, people raced from the dry hangar, site of the reception, and into the rain to hug Daddy, kiss Mommy, embrace a wife or tightly squeeze a husband.
“It’s nice. I missed my kids,” said Staff Sgt. William Stansell of the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron after greeting Erik, 6, and Alyson, 4.
After his initial hug, Tech Sgt. Vince Giannetti told Vincent, 6, and Olivia, 4, “You’ve both grown.”
Senior Airman John Hetzel of the 48th Munitions Squadron, glad to be away from the desert, said, “It’s nice to see green stuff again.”
The wing members spent three months in a deployed location — the country can not be named for reasons of political sensitivity — in support of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They flew and supported F-15E Strike Eagles from the wing’s 492nd Fighter Squadron, which will return in a few days.
“We came to pick up Daddy,” said Skylar Nisperos, 3, daughter of Staff Sgt. Ernest and Nicole Nisperos.
Nicole Nisperos said she told Skylar and Kaylee, 5, only on the way to the reception that their dad would be coming home.
“You never know,” she said, referring to unplanned delays and schedule shifts that could have disappointed the two girls.
Inside the hangar was a long table with sandwiches and home-baked goodies. Balloons floated here and there. Signs of welcome and thanks were hung.
Standing as unobtrusively as is possible for a one-star general, Brig. Gen. Mark T. Mathews, the wing commander, watched as the gleeful reunions took place.
“It’s great,” he said.
The 48th is a busy fighter wing, he said, and it is rare when nearly all of the people and assets are at home. Some folks from the Liberty Wing are still away, he said, but, for the most part, the wing will be whole when the jets arrive in a few days.
“We want to give these people some time off,” he said of the returnees, before noting that those who weren’t deployed picked up the pace at the base.
The mission downrange went well, he said.
Before the returning airmen arrived, the hangar filled with families and friends.
Crystal Cooper, wife of Staff Sgt. Brian Cooper of the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said the 90 days of separation were hard, but not unexpected for a military wife.
Cooper, who is expecting a child in September, was left with three kids — ages 5 to almost 2 — and was ready for her husband’s return.
She said, “Dinner’s on the stove. The beer’s in the fridge. The house has been scrubbed top to bottom.”