JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Numerous friends and family members gathered at Joint Base Charleston-Air Base July 1 to welcome home more than 120 Airmen from the 17th Airlift Squadron returning from overseas.
The 17 AS completed a 120-day deployment in the Middle East, where they provided ongoing airlift downrange to support combat operations. While deployed, the Airmen of the 17 AS served under the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, headquartered at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, supporting combat operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Despite it being nearly midnight when the squadron returned, a large crowd of fathers, mothers, spouses, children and friends gathered on the flight line with American flags, colorful welcome home signs and balloons where they eagerly anticipated the plane's arrival.
As the wheels officially touched the tarmac, the crowd broke into applause and cheers for their loved ones' return home.
Shannon Heiling, one of many spouses on the flight line that night, waited anxiously for her husband, Capt. Brook Heiling, as more than one hundred Airmen began exiting the aircraft. "Your heart just starts beating, and there's just excitement and you see all the guys and you're looking for your one specific one," she said.
One by one, members of the 17 AS exited the aircraft where they received a warm welcome from base leadership and excited friends and family members who rushed to greet them with open arms.
After reuniting with her husband after four months apart, Heiling said it was hard to put into words how she felt. "It's tough to have him gone. I'm glad he's home."
Equally as excited to be home with his wife, Heiling, a pilot with the 17 AS, said, "It's just hard being away from your wife and loved ones. I was excited, and just couldn't wait to give her a hug, give her a kiss and be able to spend some time with her and everything."
For many families, having their loved ones arrive home over the Fourth of July weekend meant an extra special celebration. Squadron spouse Jenny O'Brien said that her family, who is relatively new to the area, was looking forward to catching up with friends and seeing what the Charleston area has to offer. O'Brien's husband, Mark, is an Australian loadmaster assigned to the 17 AS as part of a three-year exchange program on base.
"I'm extremely proud of him, and I fully support what he does," said O'Brien.
The 817 EAS mission and its importance to the support and sustainment of our other service members is best illustrated through the vast number of sorties, hours flown and cargo moved.
Flying the C-17 Globemaster III, the 17 AS Airmen flew roughly 2,850 sorties and logged 8,700 combat flying hours--a number equivalent to one aircraft flying nonstop for almost one year.
Additionally, the squadron airlifted approximately 111 million pounds of combat material and 191,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and distinguished visitors throughout the area of responsibility. The squadron also performed 29 combat airdrops, delivering roughly 1.4 million pounds of cargo.
"I am proud of the men and women in the 17th AS who served with great distinction during our 120 day deployment to the Middle East," said Lt. Col. Michael Madsen, 17 AS commander.
During their time overseas, Madsen said their missions included important contributions made to coalition efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. "From our bases throughout the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, we had a front row seat to the dramatic changes occurring during the Arab spring."
In addition to the importance of their deployed mission, Madsen also acknowledge the significance of coming home near Independence Day. "It is particularly poignant to be returning home from our deployment on the July 4th weekend, as it reminds us that we are part of a long tradition serving to preserve and protect the liberties enjoyed by our great nation."
The 817 EAS, which includes several detachments throughout Eurasia and the Middle East, conducts airlift, airdrop and aeromedical evacuation missions daily to provide direct support to the warfighter. The squadron is the second half of a two-part, expeditionary airlift squadron concept, which was established in 2006.
Its sister unit, the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, operates out of a non-disclosed location in the Middle East.
The two-EAS concept provides two airlift hubs at separate geographical locations to speed passengers by the hundreds of thousands and pounds of equipment by the millions in and out of the fight.
The 14 AS deployed from Joint Base Charleston 22 and 24 June to serve a 120-day deployment in the Middle East.