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15th Airlift Squadron returns from Middle East
Airmen from the 15th Airlift Squadron point and wave to friends and loved ones after arriving from a twenty hour flight home Nov. 7, 2010 on Joint Base Charleston, S.C. More than 120 Airmen from the 15th Airlift Squadron returned home after a four-month deployment to the Middle East. While deployed, the Airmen flew roughly 3,500 sorties and airlifted more than 125 million pounds of cargo throughout the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor)
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Mobility Airmen return to families, friends at JB Charleston after four-month deployment

Posted 11/12/2010   Updated 11/12/2010 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowles
Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

11/12/2010 - JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- At approximately 3:26 p.m. Nov. 7, a commercial airliner returning from overseas touched down at Joint Base Charleston with more than 130 Airmen on board from the 15th Airlift Squadron.

Their deployment had scattered squadron personnel throughout the Middle East and Eurasia, supporting overseas contingency operations. They were recently relieved by members of the 16th Airlift Squadron, who will continue the ongoing airlift support.

Now, as palmettos and southern, green pines replaced desert sand and heat, the men and women known as the Global Eagles were home -- mission complete.

Wheels down and excitement stirring among the families waiting on the ground, the taxiing aircraft slowly approached. With the plane in sight, fingertips jittered across phone keys, announcing via text message that the "Eagles" had landed. Others held out for a more face-to-face "transmission."

The jet stopped just shy of the crowd who stared at the door of the plane, waiting for the boarding ladder to close the gap separating them those onboard.

"Take a picture of them opening the door!" came a voice from the crowd. "Look, here they come!" exclaimed another. Children in mini flight suits, too young to talk, observed the commotion from their perches atop parents' shoulders.

As the door opened, the crowd erupted in cheers with eyes fixed forward in search for that special someone -- mommy or daddy, son or daughter, wife or husband. A loved one whom a day before was half a world away.

It's the part about military service that can be hardest, but Margie Riddell, wife of 1st Lt. Lane Riddell, said she is behind her husband all the way and prepared a special welcome home dinner.

"My husband's request for when he got home was a steak, a twice-baked potato and a [bottle of] Boulevard Wheat ... it's in the fridge waiting."

Lieutenant Riddell served eight years previously in the Marine Corps aboard C-130s as a navigator. After being accepted into an Air Force scholarship program, he has since become a pilot with the 15th AS.

"He's very focused," she said. "It's one of the things I love most about him."

For four months, her husband and his fellow Airmen in the 15th AS operated in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility as the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. The squadron operated nearly a dozen aircraft, flying thousands of missions and moving more than 100 million pounds of cargo and 195,000 passengers.

In the midst of meeting the president's directed drawdown of Iraq troops and Operation Enduring Freedom surge, the 15 AS was also called on for immediate humanitarian support for flooded areas of Pakistan, with more than two million pounds of aid delivered while continuing non-stop support to combat missions downrange.

"These guys have had tremendous impact on operations over there," said Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Kloeppel, 15th AS superintendent. "They've airdropped relief supplies, fuel and ammunition, and that's especially important as winter time arrives in the mountains of Afghanistan when those units have a hard time getting things through the typical supply lines. When these C-17s bring in supplies, it protects the guys on the ground and provides vital resupply."

With the details of deployed exploits on close-hold, several spouses said they were comforted by the limited, yet regular, communication with their significant others to help stave off the loneliness of separation.

"We got to talk to each other over [the internet], so that really helped," said Quinn Povilaitis, wife of Capt. Michael Povilaitis, a pilot with the 15th AS.

The deployment was a first-time experience for the couple. They arrived in Charleston in February and were already saying goodbye in July. Mrs. Povilaitis said she is excited to have her husband back for the holidays. On top of that, they are expecting a new arrival in late December, and Mrs. Povilaitis said she has big plans for her returning hubby.

"It's a boy. We were waiting to pick a name until he got back," she said. "We'll be getting the nursery ready while he is on leave."

Mrs. Povilaitis was joined on the flightline by several other expecting spouses bundled up in scarves and jackets. Some spouses had one, two or three young children already - throngs of patriotic, flag waving families hoisting signs, gripping balloons and cradling bouquets of flowers.

The four long months they spent apart from their Airmen were moments from their end, waiting to be sealed with the reassurance of a child's hug, a parent's smile and spouse's loving kiss.

And kiss they did. One-by-one Airmen joined their spouses, locking eyes and lips. Little ones in tote wrapped arms tightly around necks - holding, squeezing - and from under the brims of their heroes' tan hats, their smiles showed that someone special was finally home.

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