01/10/10 — A few more homecomings

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A few more homecomings

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 10, 2010 1:50 AM

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335th Chiefs Capt. Nick Suppa reunites with his wife, Amber, after a four-month deployment in Afghanistan.

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335th Chiefs Capt. Cy Mogan kisses his 10-month-old son, Dawson, after arriving back at Seymour Johnson AFB. Families and friends gathered again on Friday to welcome more airmen home.

More than an hour before his father, Gabe's, F-15E Strike Eagle touched down on the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base flight line Friday afternoon, Noah Lewis picked out an American flag to wave jetside.

"I want a big one," the 7-year-old said before grabbing hold of his choice. "I want a big one because my dad's coming home today."

The boy smiled as he gave the banner a few test waves and then turned to another one of the children roaming the halls of the 335th Fighter Squadron headquarters -- halls that have been relatively quiet for the past four months.

"Did you know my dad is coming home today?" Noah said. "He's been in the war."

Dozens of 335th officers -- and the Strike Eagles they have been commanding over Afghanistan since late August -- touched down on familiar ground Friday after a tour at Bagram Airfield.

Their mission while deployed: To provide 24/7 air support for Coalition forces on the ground.

But ordnance dropped and missions flown did not seem to matter as much as the impending reunion to those standing in a bitter cold awaiting the Chiefs arrival.

Like Amber Suppa, one of the family members on hand, who spent much of her wait in conversation -- posing, every few moments, for photographs with other 335th spouses.

But she got choked up when F-15Es -- flying in four-jet formations -- streaked by and each crew, one by one, broke away from the others to come in for landing.

And tears fell from her eyes when her husband, Nick's, Strike Eagle rolled by -- when he killed the engines and made his way out of the aircraft.

Amber could not hold back her emotions when the couple finally reunited.

Tears fell with each soft kiss during their long embrace.

And further down the flight line, Dawson James Mogan, a toddler who forged the cold wearing a plane-themed sweatshirt and oversized ear muffs, got a similar greeting from his father, Cy.

4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Mark Kelly said seeing families reconnect after months spent apart has been one of the highlights of his stint at Seymour Johnson.

"It's a big day," he said. "I'm just glad everybody's back."

But even as he, too, took in the sights and sounds that came with Friday's celebration, he could not help but think about homecomings that will happen months from now at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune -- how 4th Fighter Wing airmen and their F-15Es are a big reason why many soldiers and Marines will make it home from their tours. "I will guarantee those homecomings are going to happen ... in part because of what our airmen did," he said. "There is nobody who can bring the speed, the range of payload and the diversity ... that we do."

Several hours after that scene unfolded along the flight line, another group of 4th airmen returned to Seymour Johnson, the maintainers who ensured the wing's fleet was fit to fly in theater and back home.

Kelly praised their efforts, too, calling the number of combat sorties they produced -- more than 1,600 with none grounded due to maintenance issues -- unprecedented.

"That's almost unheard of," he said. "So I feel great about their achievements."

The Chiefs' homecoming marked the end of nearly a year of air power in Afghanistan that came courtesy of 4th aviators, maintainers and support staff. The 335th replaced the 336th Rocketeers at Bagram.