JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- , –
Hundreds of family members and friends waited anxiously in a packed Joint Base Charleston Passenger Terminal for a 747 charter jet carrying nearly 100 Airmen from 560th Red Horse Squadron returning from a six-month deployment April 11.
The Air Force Reservists have been deployed as part of the the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron since November and were responsible for heavy construction projects at various Middle Eastern locations. This marks the first deployment for the newly formed squadron, which started operations on Nov. 1, 2008.
"These horsemen have done some amazing work," said Lt. Col. Joseph Swaim, 560th RHS commander. "Much of this could not be possible without the support of the family back home -- the wives, husbands, moms and dads that make things possible for these men and women to do what they did."
Reserve leadership was the first to welcome the troops back home. Col. James Fontanella, 315th Airlift Wing commander, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Gigi Manning joined Lt. Col. Swaim, and his 560th RHS chiefs, Chief Master Sgt. James Hampton and Chief Master Sgt. Tonya Blythe at the side of the jet. Col. Timothy Lamb, 622nd Civil Engineer Group commander at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. Also was on hand to welcome the Airmen back home.
Family members holding up welcome home signs cheered as the first returning Airmen in red hats stepped out the jet's door and made their way down the stairs to the tarmac. One sign read: "We are so Proud of You Welcome Home," and another read: "We Miss Our Hero." Other signs and banners had similar cheerful messages--many, no doubt, made by the tiny hands of these Airmen's children. Tears of joy stained the cheeks of some of the loved ones as they jumped up and down waving.
"The difference that we're making in the world; you see it on the news, but to see it first hand, it's a terrific experience to be there and do it," said one of the returning Airmen Senior Airman Michael Crump as he held his two children in his arms. "I wouldn't say I want to do it often, but any time our country calls on us we'll be there."
"This is what we have been waiting on, it's fantastic," said Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Rice of the enthusiastic reception. "We really missed them and we are just ready to go and spend some good time with our family. It's good to be home."
Approximately two months into their deployment, the 560th RHS executed a critical $31 million construction program spanning from the Middle East to Central Asia. Projects included a tactical operation center, command and control infrastructure, strategic airlift ramp and fuel farm, emergency airfield repairs and several other facilities delivering mission and life-support functions across the U.S. Central Command area of operation.
Swaim said there were over 20 individual Red Horse construction projects distributed across eight different sites throughout Southwest Asia, with majority of the projects located in Afghanistan. The HORSEmen moved over 100,000 tons of dirt, maintained over and distributed over $20 million worth of materials, and performed many maintenance actions on Air Force Central Command's largest single-unit fleet worth $85.2 million.
"These HORSEmen have done some amazing work," Swaim added. "Much of this could not be possible without the support of the family back home. The wives, husbands, moms and dads that make things possible for these men and women to do what they did."
Red Horse squadrons are capable of rapid response and independent operations in remote, high-threat environments worldwide and provide heavy repair capability and construction support for the Air Force.