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Members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron salute during the playing of the national anthem at a ceremony Thursday welcoming them back to Aviano Air Base from a six-month deployment to Iraq.
Members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron salute during the playing of the national anthem at a ceremony Thursday welcoming them back to Aviano Air Base from a six-month deployment to Iraq. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron salute during the playing of the national anthem at a ceremony Thursday welcoming them back to Aviano Air Base from a six-month deployment to Iraq.
Members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron salute during the playing of the national anthem at a ceremony Thursday welcoming them back to Aviano Air Base from a six-month deployment to Iraq. (Kent Harris / S&S)
Families and community members cheer the return of the 603rd Air Control Squadron to Aviano Air Base on Thursday. Hangar 1 was crowded with family members and active-duty personnel eager to see the airmen return to their home base from a six-month deployment in Iraq.
Families and community members cheer the return of the 603rd Air Control Squadron to Aviano Air Base on Thursday. Hangar 1 was crowded with family members and active-duty personnel eager to see the airmen return to their home base from a six-month deployment in Iraq. (Kent Harris / S&S)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — It didn’t take a lot of convincing to get these scorpions out of the desert.

After more than six months in Iraq, more than 100 members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron, known as the “Scorpions,” returned to an enthusiastic welcome Thursday at their home base.

“Every single man and woman in this unit worked incredibly hard,” said Lt. Col. Kristen Dolan, the squadron commander. “All the Scorpions in this room can hold their heads high.”

Many couldn’t lift their hands, though, because they were wrapped in hugs around spouses or holding kids. Or both.

“He just turned 2 the other day,” said Staff Sgt. Daxton Newberry of his son, Evan, while holding him up. “There are three more of them. One of them’s in school.”

Shannon Newberry didn’t have to be reminded about the kids.

“I’m so happy he’s home,” she said, tears in her eyes, looking at her husband. “We have four [kids] and it hasn’t been easy.”

The deployment wasn’t an easy one, either. The unit was first sent to Baghdad International Airport, then moved to Balad Air Base to set up operations there. Along the way, they served twice the time in theater that most airmen do.

“Hopefully, the next one won’t be quite as long,” said Capt. Larissa Shipunoff. “The flight back was very emotional. And beautiful, seeing the mountains and all the green in Italy.”

Not all the Scorpions made the flight back. Airman 1st Class Antoine Holt was killed in a mortar attack in Balad on April 9. Two others were seriously wounded.

Brig. Gen. Mike Worden, the 31st Fighter Wing commander, and Lt. Gen. Arthur Lichte, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe vice commander, were on hand for the return. Both had words of praise for the airmen.

“What you did was important for the country of Iraq, and what you did was important for the United States,” Lichte said.

Thursday’s return isn’t the only one scheduled this week at Aviano. Members of the 555th Fighter Squadron, also deployed to southwest Asia, are set to come back this weekend.

Most of the deployed Scorpions will now get two weeks off before they resume their duties at Aviano. Apparently not all of them got enough sand, though.

“Rest, relaxation,” said Staff Sgt. Craig Ravina of his plans. “Going to the beach.”

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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