Yokota welcomes back more airmen from deployment
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Another wave of U.S. airmen returned home Thursday evening.
A commercial passenger plane carrying about 30 troops who had deployed in support of the global war on terror touched down just before 6 p.m.
The group was part of a 120-member contingent that flew to Southwest Asia in early June to fill various roles in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Ninety airmen returned to Yokota two weeks ago in a larger homecoming.
A small gathering of family, friends, commanders and co-workers — numbering about 100 — turned out Thursday, with Yokota’s honor guard and U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia occupying their places on the welcoming committee.
Each name was announced over a loudspeaker and Col. Mark Schissler, 374th Airlift Wing commander, greeted the servicemembers as they stepped off the plane — all of them wearing desert battle- dress uniforms.
Darlene Roberts, with her son, Nikolas, was waiting for her husband, Master Sgt. Charles Roberts. She snapped photos of the plane as it pulled into a spot just behind Building 400.
“I’m very nervous but mostly excited,” she said. “I’m just missing him. We’ve been through a lot of deployments but this one was a little scarier than normal, because of the world situation. I think it’s harder for us to be apart now.”
She said she refused to watch the news while he was away.
“Happy thoughts only,” she added. “No negative ones.”
Standing nearby, Maria Roberts — with her three children, David Jr., 12, Cristina, 7, and Kiana, 5 — was excited about seeing her husband, David, a master sergeant with the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“They can’t wait to see their dad,” Roberts said. “It’s been very tough on the family. It’s been over three months since he left. I work hard to take care of the kids. It’ll be good to have him back. I’m very happy.”
Senior Airman Brian Batson of the 374th Maintenance Squadron quickly found his wife, Jeanette, after completing the long journey home.
He said the toughest part about working downrange was the 130-degree temperatures, with 90 percent humidity tossed in for good measure.
“It feels good to be back and see some green again,” Batson said. “It was a little rough working in the heat of the day for 12 hours a day. But all in all, it was a good experience.”
Capt. Kevin West, a single medical nurse in Yokota’s intensive care unit, was looking ahead to the mandatory two-week leave period handed out to the returning troops. He’s tacking an additional three weeks onto that and heading home to visit family in Omaha, Neb.
“It’s nice being back,” he said, “but it’s almost like a dream. I’ve woke up, and now I’m back home. The days over there were very long but looking back, it seems like a dream — and I’ve woken up.”
The cool evening air offered the first hints of fall — something not lost on Staff Sgt. Brandi Thomas.
“When I stepped out, I didn’t know what that was,” she said. “I thought, ‘What’s that on the back of my neck? Oh yeah, goose bumps.’ I hadn’t felt those in a long time.”
Thomas was among nine airmen from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, who were hitching a ride home. They’ll spend the next few days at Yokota before flying back to the Aloha State.
“It’ll be nice to get a couple days of down time, even though I’m ready to get back to the beach,” said Thomas, who’s assigned to the 15th Services Division and spent her deployment in Ali Al Salem, Kuwait.
“I’ll go on vacation when I get back to Hickam. I’m going to the big island with my best friend. But we’ll kick back here for a few days.”
Schissler said each homecoming is significant and praised the accomplishments of the returning airmen.
“All we’re trying to do is show the kind of heroes they are,” he said. “The things they’re doing over there in the sand are nothing short of heroic. We owe a debt to all of them.”