WILLIAMSTOWN- It was a day of joy and a day of tears as 30 West Virginia National Guard soldiers returned home Thursday after serving a year in Afghanistan.
Families, friends and supporters gathered at the Williamstown Readiness Center near the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport to welcome home the members of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 104th General Support Aviation Battalion.
Word came early that mechanical problems with the airplane in Texas would cause a delay of more than an hour as the troops changed planes, but many people were not upset.
Families, friends and supporters gathered to welcome members of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 104th Gene
''We waited a year; we can wait another hour,'' said Mike McClure of Beckley, who was awaiting the arrival of his son, Robert, who is a Blackhawk pilot. ''Even though the weather is dreary and gray, it isn't having any effect. We are just happy on top of happy.''
Cheers erupted when the announcement came at 1 p.m. that the airplane had lifted off from Fort Hood in Texas.
Nina Wilson of Parkersburg was waiting, with her husband Roger, for their son Ashton, who served as a helicopter mechanic.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Members of the Company C, 2nd Battalion, 104th General Support Aviation Battalion returned to the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Thursday afternoon and are greeted by, among others, Major General James A. Hoyer, the Adjutant General for West Virginia, far right.
''It has been a long year,'' she said. ''It has been a long year for all of them as well. We are very relieved that they are all coming home safe.''
Many families were able to keep in touch with their loved ones by cell phones and Internet cameras that allowed family members to see their loved ones.
''We were able to talk to him just about every other day they were over there and talked to him through an Internet camera,'' McClure said. ''Still we weren't with them.''
Families, friends and supporters gathered at the Williamstown Readiness Center Thursday near the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport to welcome home the members of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 104th General Support Aviation Battalion.
Word came early that mechanical problems with the airplane in Texas would cause a delay of more than an hour as the troops changed airplanes, but many people were not upset.
The troops arrived shortly after 3 p.m. and were greeted by family and friends.
Many families said the first thing they were going to do when they saw their soldier was embrace them.
''I am so excited I can't stand it,'' said Pam Pennington of Harman, who was waiting for her son Nathan. ''I just want to hug him. That is all I care about.''
For many, the last year had its challenges and many were anxiously awaiting this day.
''It took forever to get here,'' Pennington said. ''We didn't get much sleep last night. ''As long as he gets here, that is number one.''
In the beginning, shortly after the 104th left, the families had a good understanding of time, McClure said.
''When it starts out it seems like you can gauge what it is,'' he said. ''When it gets three-fourths over, it seems like it takes forever for them to get back.''
Although they heard from their son regularly, Wilson said it was still a long year.
They didn't breathe a sigh of relief until they had gotten word Sunday the group was back in the United States.
''We are very proud of him and all of them,'' she said. ''Our church has prayed for the troops and kept a candle lit for Ashton and all of the military families.
''I think many Americans are great patriotic supporters of the military. We are very happy for that.''
Although there were 30 service personnel returning, Wilson was impressed with the hundreds of people who came out to welcome back the 104th.
''We assume they know we appreciate them, but just to say 'thank you' really means the world to them,'' she said.
The families were told around 3 p.m., the airplane was approaching the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.
They were allowed to go out to the field and watch the airplane land at around 3:10 p.m.
The service men and women got off the airplane and were loaded onto a bus and were driven to where their families and friends awaited them, many with signs and flags.
Families reunited and many had a chance to welcome someone home.
Parents hugged their returning children, children hugged a returning parent and husbands and wives got to kiss one another for the first time in more than a year.
Family and friends embraced someone special to them.
''It feels awesome. It is definitely long awaited,'' said Spc. Jordan Gardo, who was greeted by friend Staci Starr and his mother and stepfather Shawn and Charlie Graham.
Maj. Kevin Hazuka said he was thrilled to see everyone in his family and all of those who came out to see them.
''This is why this is the greatest country in the world,'' he said. ''It is absolutely wonderful to be home.''
Everyone returned to the readiness center for a small ceremony.
For nearly a year, members of the 2-104th GSAB conducted Aerial Medical Evacuations operations under the command and control of the 101st Airborne Division.
Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer, the adjutant general for West Virginia, commended the 104th for its service.
''This unit had an eight-minute turnaround time in Afghanistan,'' he said. ''They did over 500 combat Medivac missions.
''That was over 500 men and women who got to come home because of (the 104th).''