12/21/11 — Back in the Nick of time

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Back in the Nick of time

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 21, 2011 1:46 PM

Allison Carter

Richard Hoyt III, from left, Mara Hoyt, Michelle Hoyt and Miranda Hoyt look toward the hangars Tuesday at SJAFB. They were waiting on Richard Hoyt II to return from Afghanistan. Michelle wanted their dad's return to be a surprise, so she didn't tell the children he would be home for Christmas.

Allison Carter

Jose Nazario, left, greets his wife, Andrea, and their soon-to-be-born child as he returns Tuesday from Afghanistan.

Allison Carter

Dimitri Grillos, right, smiles at his son, Atlas, Tuesday at SJAFB. Dimitri was greeted by his wife, Cynthia, and Atlas after returning from Afghanistan.

For some, Christmas came a little early on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's flight line Tuesday as dozens of airmen returned home from Afghanistan -- just three months into what was expected to be a six-month deployment.

Among those coming home were members of the 4th Fighter Wing's 336th and 335th Fighter Squadrons and others from its Air Maintenance and Logistical Readiness Squadrons -- six jets and more than 60 airmen on Tuesday, and another six jets and more than 50 airmen today.

Among those coming home in Tuesday's wave was Lt. Col. Richard Hoyt. For him and his wife, Michelle Hoyt, who also used to be active duty military, this was their fifth or sixth deployment, so, she said, they understood what to expect. But that didn't make knowing he was going to be gone for the holidays any less tough. So when she received word that he would be home in time for Christmas, she said it was a slightly bittersweet moment.

"It's exciting for us, of course, but there are a lot of families whose significant other won't be home," she said.

Still, having him home this Christmas, especially after they and their three children, Mara, 9, Rick, 6, and Miranda, 2, had spent last year in Korea, is a nice surprise -- and a surprise it was, indeed, for their children, who didn't know daddy was coming home until they saw him climbing out of his F-15E Strike Eagle.

"I told them we were coming for a Christmas activity," Mrs. Hoyt explained. "You just never know when something's going to change, so it was just a nice surprise, especially with the kids out of school so they can spend some time together."

And once on the ground, Hoyt was engulfed by his children and their requests that he look at his son's loose tooth, that they go to the movies, that they start other Christmas activities almost immediately. In fact, Rick was concerned that his father's early return had actually jeopardized the surprise of one of his presents that was last seen unwrapped under the tree -- a situation his mother assured him had been remedied.

For Capt. Joshua Higgins and his wife, Jessica, this was their first deployment, and they were naturally disappointed that it was coinciding with the holidays when he left on Sept. 14. But when they found out, shortly before Thanksgiving that he was likely to be home in time for Christmas, they knew they had been blessed.

"It's so exciting. We didn't think he would come home until March -- that's what we were planning on," Mrs. Higgins said, with their 2-year-old daughter, Sagen, and 7-month-old son, Cannon, beside her. "This is his first Christmas and the first Christmas she understands. Naturally, we're just over the moon excited."

And the fact that their deployment was cut short over the Christmas holiday just made it all the much sweeter.

"This is the best Christmas present I could get," Higgins said. "We're going to have a good family Christmas."

Later in the day, another airman, TSgt. Carmine Reese said he and his wife, Brandy, were planning to turn his homecoming into "an extra Christmas surprise" for their children, Bradley, 6, and Cadence, 18 months.

Mrs. Reese explained that she'd left the children at a friend's house and was planning to go back first, and that when her husband knocked on the door, Bradley would be the one to answer, seeing his father for the first time in three months.

"We've got it all planned out," she said, laughing through her tears of joy as she and Reese clung to each other.

Waiting with one of the larger crowds Tuesday evening was Mary Cook, who was watching for her husband TSgt. Jackie Cook Jr. Waiting with her were their daughter, Cassidy, who was texting all her friends and extended family that her father was home, her son, Christopher, and her in-laws, Jackie and Brenda. She said they had talked to him on Monday, when they found out for sure he was coming home, and that he said he had met some other soldiers and Marines returning home while passing through Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan and that they had been celebrating ever since.

"I'm excited. He's excited. We're just so excited we can't hardly stand it," Mary said.

Also with family waiting on him was Airman William Foxx with his mother, Cathy, father, Barry, and girlfriend Kaieran. For them, this return was also extra special. Last year during Christmas, they explained, Foxx was in basic training and hadn't been able to be home with them in Silver, N.C., for Christmas and they were disappointed at the prospect of missing two holidays in a row with him.

"We couldn't have Christmas last year with him gone," his father said, his voice breaking slightly. "So it'll be complete this year."

And it was stories like that, said 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doughty, that made him all the more glad to be able to welcome these airmen home.

"What better way to kick off the holiday season than to welcome home some of our 4th Fighter Wing warriors with an unexpected early return. We commend them for a job well done," he said.

Senior Airmen Steven Pate had a slightly different greeting than everybody else, though. He was the only airman to be welcomed home by his girlfriend, Kristin Mewborn, and man's best friend, a Yorkie-poo named Avery wearing a sweater saying "Welcome home daddy. I wuv you."

And while they teased each other about whose dog it really was, Pate and Miss Mewborn were excited to see each other and to begin enjoying the holidays together.

"This is my early Christmas present," she said.

And that was kind of a theme all day Monday as couples and families who had anticipated a quiet and sad holiday season were suddenly able to make new plans -- even if it meant complete readjustments.

Until she received the news, Andrea Troyer had planned to spend the entire holiday season with her family in Kentucky. But with her husband, Capt. Chris Troyer, among those coming home Tuesday, she and their children, Anna, 4 months, and Alexander, 2, came home last week to begin making preparations for his arrival.

"We're thrilled, absolutely thrilled," Mrs. Troyer said. "It's just so amazing that he's going to be here to experience this with us and be with us this Christmas."

But Troyer knows he's among the lucky ones this holiday season. Approximately 150 airmen from Seymour will remain at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, along with other servicemen and women from all the branches who remain in theater.

"This is awesome. This is a pleasant surprise," Troyer said. "But we've got a lot of people who are going to be working and fighting and flying over the holidays, and we're thinking about them. But definitely, I'm happy to be home."