Tuesday, May 18, 2010

188th Fighter Wing burns midnight oil in late night homecoming; more than 200 Airmen return from Kandahar deployment

by Capt. Heath Allen
Arkansas National Guard Public Affairs

5/18/2010 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- While their minds were focused on the mission, their hearts were longing for home.

More than 200 members of the Arkansas Air National Guard's 188th Fighter Wing returned to home station Monday following an Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) deployment to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

A World Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 packed full of Guardsmen touched down at Fort Smith Regional Airport at 11:55 p.m. May 17, 2010.

More than 50 members of the 188th left Jan. 8, 2010, and spent the entire four-month AEF rotation in Kandahar. An additional 225 Guardsmen joined them in early March for the 188th's official two-month portion of the rotation. The remaining personnel, approximately 50, and the 188th's deployed A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" will return later this week.

The AEF mission was the 188th's first combat deployment as a unit with A-10s since it received its first Warthog April 14, 2007. The 188th shared the four-month AEF rotation with the 175th Wing, an A-10 Air National Guard unit based in Baltimore, Md. While in theater the 188th was attached to the 451st Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Airfield.

"We're certainly glad to have our Airmen back home safe," said Col. Tom Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander. "It was an important mission and the 188th made key contributions to the effort. The 188th has a rich history of performing well under pressure and this deployment was no different. Everyone put in a lot of hard work to ensure each mission was successful."

The A-10 mission in southern Afghanistan is to fly close-air support in response to ground troops who may be in contact with the enemy, or to escort convoys in particularly hostile areas. When not supporting ground troops, A-10s patrol designated sectors and provide aerial reconnaissance on locations of interest to ground commanders.

While in Kandahar, the 188th consistently flew 12 to 16 sorties per day with each flying mission averaging two to five hours.

"We had 12 aircraft that we were responsible for and our A-10s were airborne 24/7," said Capt. Jim Garvey, 188th maintenance officer. "Our job was to ensure that we met a flying mission every day to support troops on the ground. The pilots did that with great zeal and determination. The maintenance group worked hard to ensure that we did not miss a single mission in the entire 60 days we were there."

While the deployed 188th members maintained and repaired A-10s, flew countless sorties, conducted numerous inspections and marched to the cadence of a 24-hour operations tempo, the families were not without myriad contributions in their Guardsman's absence.

And on Monday, the Guardsmen and their respective families reciprocated their thanks for a job well done.

"I'm so glad to be home and to see my family," Garvey said. "We have such a proud, supportive community and this reception is a reflection of that."

Despite the near midnight arrival, more than 1,000 family members and friends of the deployed Airman gathered at the 188th to welcome them home.

It was an emotional moment as the deployed members were reunited with their families at the 188th's Consolidated Maintenance Facility. Tearful embraces were greeted with fervor as families huddled in group hugs, collectively clinging to the moment.

"I'm very proud of each and every member of the 188th for all of their dedication," Anderson said. "I'm also very thankful for all of their wonderful families and the sacrifices they made while their loved ones were deployed."

Before this mission, the 188th's last AEF rotation transpired in 2005 when the unit deployed 267 Airmen and 10 F-16s to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

For more information on the 188th Fighter Wing please visit www.188fw.ang.af.mil.
You can also find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fort-Smith-Ark/188th-Fighter-Wing-Arkansas-Air-National-Guard/113971391965165?ref=mf

Maj. Brian Ahlert, right, reunites with his son and wife, Ashley, May 17, 2010. Ahlert was one of more than 200 members of the Arkansas Air National Guard's 188th Fighter Wing that returned to home station Monday following an Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) deployment to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Heath Allen) Hi-res


See also (updated May 19, 2010):

188th Fighter Wing Arrives Home

Kate Luck, Reporter
4:50 AM CDT, May 18, 2010

It was a late night but a happy one for the members of the 188th Fighter Wing. They returned around midnight Monday night from a two and a half month deployment to Afghanistan.

The airmen were originally scheduled to arrive around 6 in the afternoon. It was nearly midnight when their plane finally landed in Fort Smith. Despite the late hour, hundreds of friends and family were there to welcome their loved ones home.

Every face had a smile as the airmen of the 188th stepped off the bus and back into their family's lives. Everyone knew they had just completed an important mission.

"To fight the bad guys," said one boy who was welcoming his father, Master Sgt. Nathan Stanfill, home.

The cheering crowd could be heard as soon as the plane was spotted. The airmen say their homecoming was more than they could imagine.

"It was great. I can't explain it. The best feeling there is," said Master Sgt. Stanfill.

"I kinda had an idea that it would be something like this, but you never really get ready for it," said Sgt. Travis Black.

"It's a day or moment you wait for from the moment you leave. Knowing the folks at home are there to support us. Over the course of the 60 plus days, they sent us care packages and letters. As we got those, we couldn't wait to see them in person. So counting down the days is really what we did," said Captain Jim Garvey.

The Stanfill family didn't know until Sunday if their husband and father would be among those returning.

"The past weekend we were on pins and needles not knowing if he was going to be able to come back. When we got the word at ten p.m. last night, it was like a million Christmases. We knew we were going to have him back home and that's what we have been living for the past two and a half months," said Kasey Stanfill.

Captain Jim Garvey says the 188th is something the whole community can stand behind.

"It goes without saying the 188th did the River Valley proud and represented our people with great pride and determination over there in the desert," he said.


Latest related news:
188th Airmen to Return from Afghanistan

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