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Lt. Col. Scott "Zot" Dennis, 14th Fighter Sqn. commander, prepares to shut down his F-16CJ engine after returning to Misawa on Thursday.

Lt. Col. Scott "Zot" Dennis, 14th Fighter Sqn. commander, prepares to shut down his F-16CJ engine after returning to Misawa on Thursday. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

Lt. Col. Scott "Zot" Dennis, 14th Fighter Sqn. commander, prepares to shut down his F-16CJ engine after returning to Misawa on Thursday.

Lt. Col. Scott "Zot" Dennis, 14th Fighter Sqn. commander, prepares to shut down his F-16CJ engine after returning to Misawa on Thursday. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

Capt. Scott Ulmer pats the belly of his wife, Capt. Tonya Ulmer, after he and five other 14th Fighter Squadron pilots returned to Misawa. The Ulmers are expecting a daughter in about a month.

Capt. Scott Ulmer pats the belly of his wife, Capt. Tonya Ulmer, after he and five other 14th Fighter Squadron pilots returned to Misawa. The Ulmers are expecting a daughter in about a month. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

Lt. Col. Scott "Zot" Dennis, 14th Fighter Squadron commander, removes his boots as he steps out of his anti-exposure suit under the watch of his wife, Debbie, Thursday at Misawa.

Lt. Col. Scott "Zot" Dennis, 14th Fighter Squadron commander, removes his boots as he steps out of his anti-exposure suit under the watch of his wife, Debbie, Thursday at Misawa. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

Ken Ekman and his sister, Jessica, hold American flags as they await the return of the father, Maj. Ken Ekman, a 14th Fighter Squadron pilot, to Misawa Air Base on Thursday.

Ken Ekman and his sister, Jessica, hold American flags as they await the return of the father, Maj. Ken Ekman, a 14th Fighter Squadron pilot, to Misawa Air Base on Thursday. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Capt. Scott Ulmer came home in the nick of time Thursday, just about a month before his wife, Capt. Tonya Ulmer, is expected to deliver their first child.

Following an embrace and kiss after emerging from his F-16CJ fighter, Ulmer patted his wife’s belly.

He and five other 14th Fighter Squadron pilots returned from deployment to a base in Southwest Asia, where they flew missions over Iraq. Defense Department guidance still prevents Air Force officials from disclosing the name of the base from which the Misawa aircraft launched sorties during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Families and squadron pilots gathered in front of Hangar 949 here to greet the returning pilots with welcome signs and children furiously waving American flags.

Later on Thursday, a C-5 Galaxy transport brought home about 150 maintenance troops who supported Misawa’s fighter aircraft at the deployed locale.

“I’m very proud to be a Samurai warrior wife,” said Jennifer Storck as she waited for her husband, Capt. Brian Storck, who left for the desert on Dec. 2.

Storck thought the contingent would remain deployed until next month, but she was pleased they were back sooner.

“I was excited that Brian and the other pilots were getting the chance to do their jobs, get it done and come home,” she said. “All of them did a great job.”

Suzanne Mann, wife of Capt. Shamsher Mann, said she looked forward to seeing her husband get reacquainted with their 11-month-old daughter, Kiran.

“She was 6 months old when he left, and he missed so much because she grew a lot during that time,” Suzanne Mann said.

Pilots and maintainers returning from deployments can look forward to several weeks off.

Returning pilots also were decorated with the Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal.

Debbie Dennis, wife of Lt. Col. Scott Dennis, 14th Fighter Squadron commander, said she had butterflies from all the anticipation of her husband’s return.

“It builds up after being separated for five months,” she said. “This is the first time he’s been away for so long, and the first time he’s been through a war.”

Although he had flown combat sorties from Turkey during the now-defunct Operation Northern Watch, Dennis said “this was my first big conflict.”

In support of Operation Southern Watch, then the migration to Operation Iraqi Freedom sorties, Dennis said the 14th piled up more than 3,700 hours while flying more than 700 sorties. On the opening night of the air war March 21, he led the squadron in the skies over Baghdad.

“We were over Baghdad the first night and every night after that,” he said.

The Samurai were the first nonstealth aircraft to fly over the Iraqi capital and fired the air campaign’s first HARM missile.

During the air war’s first three days, the squadron’s “Wild Weasels” flew the suppression of enemy air defenses, its key mission, using AGM-88 high-speed, anti-radiation missiles that destroyed Iraqi air defenses.

“We killed surface-to-air missile systems before the Army got to Baghdad,” he said.

The air war’s next phase gave the 14th pilots their first opportunity to employ their “smart” weapons.

But it wasn’t a cakewalk.

“It was quite a show that first night,” Dennis said. “They threw a lot up at us, but it was the capstone of my career … something pretty awesome.”

Dennis said he wasn’t surprised the air war ended so quickly.

“I knew what the plan was, and it was a sound plan,” he said.

He said Misawa pilots had the advantage of flying over there for 10 years during Northern and Southern Watch deployments.

“It was the best combined arms fight I’ve ever seen,” Dennis said, referring to the swift air campaign. “The Air Force brought a huge asymmetrical part to the fight.”

For the Ulmers, there’s another important mission in their immediate future.

“We waited until he came home so we can choose our daughter’s name,” Tonya Ulmer said.


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