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After being greeted by his wife, Capt. Jennifer Tittel of the 35th Communications Squadron, Capt. Steve Tittel holds his 6½-month-old son, John, for the first time since his deployment to Southwest Asia in December.

After being greeted by his wife, Capt. Jennifer Tittel of the 35th Communications Squadron, Capt. Steve Tittel holds his 6½-month-old son, John, for the first time since his deployment to Southwest Asia in December. (Renee Ekman / USAF)

A 35th Fighter Wing pilot is the first airman to have returned to Misawa Air Base from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Monday, F-16 pilot Capt. Steve Tittel, from the 14th Fighter Squadron, kissed his wife and held his 6-month-old son, John, or the first time since Dec. 2.

“It’s just good to be home,” Tittel said Tuesday.

The 30-year-old pilot returned from the war early, after being accepted to the F-16 Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

He’ll remain in Misawa for three months of pre-flight school training, then leave for six months in Nevada.

At least there his wife, Capt. Jennifer Tittel with the 35th communications squadron, will be able to visit.

“It was bittersweet. I knew he was going to get home, but I knew he would be leaving,” she said.

Deployments have separated the Tittels in the past but this was the first one involving a newborn.

“The biggest thing I missed was watching my son grow up,” Steve Tittel said.

“Other than that, just the typical family separation things.”

“The hardest part was playing single mom,” Jennifer Tittel added, “having to do everything all by myself.”

John has rolled over, sat up, begun laughing and gumming solid foods while his dad was away.

Jennifer e-mailed photos to Steve every other day to show their son’s growth since December.

“He’s progressed quite a bit since then,” Tittel said.

“The hardest part was knowing Steve was missing all of the fun stuff with the baby,” his wife said.

Tittel applied for the flight school in January and learned he was accepted in March. At the time, Jennifer knew her husband could be home soon.

But, she said, “I tried not to get too excited in case something had fallen through.”

It wasn’t until last week the Tittels knew they soon would be reunited. Still, Tittel said, he couldn’t let himself think about the future until his flight operations were complete.

“There was still a mission to do,” he said.

More than 500 airmen from the fighter wing are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His deployed conditions were livable but the tasks never were easy.

“There are several missions I’m sure I’ll never forget,” he said.

The weapons school is aimed at honing Tittel’s flying and fighter skills. It can mean a whole new set of opportunities in the future, he said.

“It’s probably the best training a fighter pilot will get in this lifetime,” he added.


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