Seven Airmen from the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing Civil Engineering Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base returned home recently to a rousing welcome at Clinton National Airport.
A crowd of over 100 fellow Air Guard personnel, family members, friends and representatives from veterans organizations waved flags and held banners celebrating the service of the Airmen and cheering loudly as they entered the main terminal area of the airport.
The seven Air Guard members just completed their six-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where they provided a variety of engineering support at Bagram Air Base.
Several of these Airmen have deployed numerous times, but most volunteered for their first deployment.
Senior Airman Donald Brooks, a junior at the University of Central Arkansas, was returning from his first deployment and said he learned a lot from the experience.
"This was my first deployment, and I learned a lot about my job and related functions that we don’t always get a chance to practice on a drill weekend. As a heavy equipment operator I got a chance to get some "stick time" driving the equipment and help with road and runway construction and repair," said Brooks.
Lt. Col. Paul Jara, commander of the 189th Civil Engineering Squadron, was also among those returning and he had high marks for his troops’ performance.
"Our team integrated well into the functions at Bagram and performed very well in the tasks assigned," said Jara. "I am very proud of this group of Airmen."
The Airmen departed the state this summer for a six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Airmen performed a variety of civil engineering functions at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan including road and runway repair, perimeter construction, fencing and concrete work.
When asked what he missed most about home while deployed Brooks replied "everything!" He noted that staying in contact with family regularly helped keep morale high.
"For me, communication was key with family. When you are over there working 12 to 16 hour days and you don’t get to come home to family at the end of a shift it is hard on morale at times," Brooks said. Nevertheless, he said he would recommend to all Airmen an opportunity to deploy. "You learn so much. You grow, and I think it just makes you a better person over all."
The 189th Airlift Wing this year has deployed a total of 122 individuals in support of Operation Enduring Freedom taskings, and with the return of these seven Airman the unit has only eight still deployed.
The Arkansas Air National Guard has approximately 1,900 members in five units located at Little Rock Air Force Base, Fort Smith Regional Airport and at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock.