Pope Families Welcome Loved Ones Home From Deployment
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., Apr. 15, 2004 Balloons, hand-painted "welcome home" signs, ear-to-ear smiles and a few tears greeted airmen and a small group of soldiers who returned here April 14 following deployments in Southwest Asia.
Erin Buczkowski, 6-year-old Isabelle and 4-year-old Mark welcome home Canadian Air Force Capt. Braden Buczkowski, who returned to Pope Air Force Base, N.C., April 14 after a deployment with the 41st Airlift Squadron. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"It's great to have them back," said Lt. Gen. William Welser III, commander of 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., who greeted the plane.
Welser credited the airmen with "doing a great job and making it happen" as they support the war on terror. He said he witnessed many of the newly arrived airmen at work in the region firsthand during his visit to Southwest Asia just a few weeks earlier.
"But it's much better to see them home with their families, and to see the big smiles on the kids' faces," he said.
Some family members who gathered inside a hangar at Pope Air Force Base here were welcoming a loved one home from combat for the first time. Among them was Sarah Barnes, who waited with 4-month-old Ian Michael to greet their husband and daddy, Air Force Capt. Jason Barnes.
Barnes, recently assigned to the 41st Airlift Squadron at Pope after an assignment at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, had spent just two months in Southwest Asia, but expects to return for his next, longer deployment to the region in July. As excited as Sarah was about her husband's homecoming, she admitted that the fact that he would leave again so soon gave it a "bittersweet" note. "But for now," she said, "we're going to concentrate on getting this little one to know his daddy before he goes back again."
For many other family members in the group, including Air Force Staff Sgt. Julie Hewett from the 43rd Communications Squadron, today's homecoming was just one more in a seemingly never-ending cycle of deployments and redeployments.
Hewett said she and her husband, Air Force Tech Sgt. Mark Hewett, have both deployed frequently in support of the war on terror. "I figure that in the past seven months, we've probably seen each other about two weeks," she said. Her husband is expected to redeploy to Southwest Asia in July.
But that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of 3-year-old Davis, who, perched atop Hewett's shoulders, excitedly pointed to the charter plane as it approached the runway, then lumbered down the tarmac toward the waiting families. "That's my daddy! That's daddy's plane!" he squealed.
Maggie Klavik and her four children, too, have learned to deal with their husband's and father's frequently deployments to Southwest Asia. This one, three and a half months long, was Maj. Pete Klavik's third in less than two years with the 41st Airlift Squadron.
Maggie said shorter, more frequent deployments common in the Air Force as opposed to the longer deployments typical in the other services are a lot easier for the children left behind, particularly younger ones. "But it's harder for the parents," she said.
"It's a lot harder," agreed Susan Broughman, whose husband, Master Sgt. Brandon Broughman, was returning home from his third deployment with the 41st Airlift Squadron. "There's always a transition, and you always have in the back of your mind, 'It's great that he's home, but he's leaving again soon," she said.
But as the families awaited that first long-awaited glimpse of their loved ones as they climbed from the aircraft and walked toward the hangar, their thoughts were on the more immediate future: the first hug, the big dinner celebration ahead, the catching up to do.
Erin Buczkowski hoped her husband, Capt. Braden Buczkowski, an exchange officer from the Canadian Air Force, might even squeeze in some time to cut the grass before a big North Carolina-style barbecue with the neighbors.
Army Spc. Manuel Ramirez from the 647th Quartermaster Company, one of the small group of soldiers on the plane, said he had a lot of catching up to do with his wife, Jessica, after serving 10 months in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"We're just going to go out and have some fun," he said.