At Yokota, joy and relief as three-month deployment ends
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Troops from Yokota and Kadena air bases were back on familiar turf Thursday, fresh off a deployment in which they boosted forces fighting the war on terrorism primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A passenger plane routed straight from Southwest Asia stopped first at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, then touched down at Yokota just before 4 p.m. In all, about 125 airmen returned to the Pacific.
Most left three months ago, as part of a scheduled rotation within the Air Force’s Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle. All filled various support roles in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, spread across the Middle East region.
The servicemembers, decked out in desert battle-dress uniforms, emerged from the plane one by one at Yokota as a public-address announcer reeled off 90 names.
After making their way through a line of senior military officials led by Col. Mark Schissler, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, they poured onto a section of the flight line just behind Building 400, where they were greeted by co-workers, family and friends.
“This is great,” said Senior Airman Danielle Ring of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron. “The flight seemed very, very long. Everybody was just anxious and excited about getting back home.”
Jennifer Allar, cradling her 2-year-old son, Ethan, couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of her husband, Derek. She said the last 90 days included a few nervous moments, especially when news from Iraq hit the airwaves.
“I’m paranoid,” she said. “I’m always checking the news, Internet and TV — just to make sure everything’s OK.
“I’m very excited to see him. This is his second deployment. The first time, [Ethan] was a baby.”
When Derek Allar, a senior airman with the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, finally located his family Thursday, the initial reunion between him and his son was a bit awkward.
“My son acted kind of scared at first,” Jennifer Allar said. “I guess it’s because Daddy looks a little different.”
Added Derek Allar, “My son: He’s huge. It’s just good to be home. It was a long trip but it’s good to get back.”
Yoko Morgan, with 4-year-old daughter Alicia in tow, tried to maintain composure while waiting for her husband, Stefan, a technical sergeant with the 374th Services Division, to step off the plane.
“I want to cry,” she said. “That’s why I’m wearing sunglasses right now, hiding my face.
“I was worried about him, watching TV and the news. I’m just glad he’s back safe.”
Heidi Reed said she tried to keep herself occupied while her husband, Staff Sgt. Marcus Reed, a 374th Civil Engineer Squadron member, was deployed.
“It’s a nervous feeling,” she said. “It doesn’t feel ‘real’ right now. It’s starting to a little bit.
“I work full time, so I stayed pretty busy. I didn’t not watch the news, but I tried not to be too worried.”
Several squadrons and agencies were represented in the deployment, including civil engineer, communications, mission support, wing staff, medical, logistic readiness, maintenance, aircraft maintenance, operational support, air postal, comptroller, weather, security forces, contracting and services.
While downrange, all personnel worked 12-14 hour shifts seven days a week.
“That was the worst part. It was pretty bad, pretty tough. But it feels great to be back,” said Airman 1st Class James Thompson, standing next to his wife, Michelle, and 4-year-old son, Cole. “I’m more nervous than anything, just seeing them again. It’s great seeing my son. He looks a little taller.”
Airman 1st Class Jeff Galdikas of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, an unmarried servicemember, was among those anticipating the mandatory two-week leave period granted the returning troops.
A few of his buddies turned out to greet him.
“Half our shop was over there with us,” Galdikas said. “I’m just looking forward to getting back here and hanging out with my friends.”