05/08/08 — Home again: Pilots return from four-month deployment

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Home again: Pilots return from four-month deployment

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 8, 2008 2:25 PM

His eyes still stinging from a post-flight champagne shower, James Jinnette reached down for the reason he is a fighter pilot.

It did not seem to matter that he had spent four months at war.

Or that landing his F-15E Strike Eagle on the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base tarmac would mark the end of his career in the skies.

In the moment he picked up his 8-year-old daughter, Hannah, they could have been the only two people next to that jet.

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With eyes closed tight, he whirled her around.

"I love you so much," he said.

They could have been the only two people on that flight line.

But as it were, there were hundreds on hand.

More than a dozen flight crews from the 4th Fighter Wing's 335th Fighter Squadron returned from a four-month stint at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Wednesday afternoon.

And for the airmen, who deployed earlier this year in support of the Global War on Terror, it was quite a welcome.

There were children running back and forth, American flags waving high above their heads.

There were anxious spouses and parents, some shedding tears as each group of Strike Eagles streaked by and touched down.

And there were pilots from other squadrons, community leaders and friends -- each with arms or a hand extended as the redeployed approached.

Goldsboro Mayor Al King was among them.

"Yep, the boys are back in town," he said. "They have done some fine work."

Work that included providing air support for Allied forces on the ground in Afghanistan 24 hours a day.

"It was extremely rewarding," Jinnette said. "It was one of those experiences where you felt like everything you did mattered. We were able to make a tremendous difference on some of these flights we were on."

Whether it was putting ordnance on target, on time, or "show of force" missions, the squadron commander said he could not be more pleased with the performance of his crews.

Maybe that is why he decided to make Wednesday's flight home the last of his Air Force career.

The Goldsboro native and Air Force lieutenant colonel said you "couldn't hope for a better ending."

"There is nothing better than bringing these guys home. What an incredible experience to be able to fly home, to look down and see Goldsboro and the runway, to see downtown and my house," he said. "This is a great way to end it, bringing these 14 crews home. A guy couldn't ask for a better way to go out."

A few hours after those jets taxied in, another group of "Chiefs" landed on the tarmac -- the group of maintainers that helped Jinnette and his crews make it home.

And close to 300 more airmen are set to return this weekend.

King can't wait to welcome them.

And he knows his town can't either.

"These guys are the best," the retired Air Force colonel said. "You can't say enough about these young men and women and what they are doing for us over there. Man they make us proud."