09/13/04 — 150 Airmen return to hugs and kisses

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150 Airmen return to hugs and kisses

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on September 13, 2004 1:57 PM

The rising sun produced a pink sky that served as a colorful backdrop to the aircraft that landed this morning at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Inside the civilian aircraft were about 150 airmen, mostly from the 4th Maintenance Group, who were returning from a four-month deployment to Qatar, a country near Iraq.

Smiles came across their faces as they stepped on home ground at about 7 a.m. in civilian clothes. Base personnel surrounded the plane to welcome them home, and the airmen shook the hand of Col. Donald Jurewicz, 4th Fighter Wing vice commander.

After their luggage was unloaded, they were taken by bus to the base's community center to reunite with their families and friends, who were waving American flags. The buses made the turn toward them, and everyone leaned over trying to get their first glimpse of the airmen.

A banner reading "Hurry Home Team Seymour" hung behind the anxious families as the airmen stepped off the buses and hurried to meet them.

"It feels very good to be home," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Lambert with the 336th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. His wife, Michelle, and children, Austin, 4, and Cody, 2, greeted him.

"I'm still shaking, it's wonderful," said Mrs. Lambert.

He said this was not his first deployment, but it does not get any easier being separated from family. He was able to maintain good contact with them through e-mail and morale calls. He said morale was still high overseas, although there were some ups and downs. The hard times are made easier by the support at home and abroad, he said.

Tech. Sgt. Steven Johnson with the 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron received a warm welcome home from his wife, Amanda, and children, Samantha, 1, and Meredith, 3.

"I'm so excited," said Mrs. Johnson.

It was his first deployment from Seymour Johnson, where he has been stationed for a year and a half. He had been overseas for around 90 days. He also said the morale of the airmen who are still overseas is good. They have everything they need, but it is very tough being away from family, he added.

Col. James M. Holmes, 4th Fighter Wing commander, greeted the returning airmen at the community center.

"We are really happy to have them back," he said.

Most of the airmen were in charge of supporting flying operations for the entire wing. Holmes said they will now get some much-needed down time. Their next deployment should be in 16 months.

"We are really proud of them," he said.

This past weekend, the base deployed around 300 airmen combined from the 335th Fighter Squadron and airmen supporting them.

There will be another group of over 100 airmen, mainly from the 4th Maintenance Group, returning Tuesday morning.