EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE (AP) After spending months in Saudi Arabia, 11 members of the Alaska Air National Guard got a hero's welcome home this week.
The men, tanned and dressed in desert-camouflage fatigues, stepped off the 168th Air Refueling Wing's tankers Thursday afternoon. There were 200 clapping people waiting for them at the base hangar.
Children trotted toward their fathers. Wives ran with open arms to their husbands. One man had to dodge another man's running spouse to get to his own wife.
Guardsmen picked up their wives in a close embrace. Others bent down on a knee and engulfed their children. Many shed tears.
These 11 part-time Guardsmen have been deployed for 239 days in the last year, leaving families to face an emotional roller-coaster.
A three-month deployment in support of the no-fly zone was extended earlier this year as the war in Iraq interfered with their return home.
On March 17, the day President Bush issued his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, Rebecca Brownlee received a phone call from her husband. He said he wouldn't be able to call her for a while.
The 21st was really hard for me,'' Rebecca said.
Some nights her son had nightmares that his father, James, had been killed.
She tried sheltering her children from the images of war, but both Logan, 6, and Kelsie, 4, learned enough about the fighting at school to question whether their father would return from the Middle East.
She had to explain to her children that their father was safe, although she had her own doubts.
In more mundane affairs while James was away, both of his children got glasses, Rebecca cut her long hair and his son learned how to read.
As people filtered out of the hangar, James watched his children as they danced energetically around him.
It was quite a change from his duty in Saudi Arabia, checking vehicles that drove onto Prince Sultan Air Base there.
The job made the days go by more quickly, Brownlee said, even though he had to deal with the disdain some Saudis showed Americans.
Some liked us, some didn't,'' he said.
The days didn't go by quickly for everyone.
Senior Airman David Simmons spent his 13- to 14-hour-long days mostly sitting at his heavy M-60 machine gun, guarding aircraft at the base. In his normal routine, he worked four days, then spent his day off sleeping and doing laundry before returning to work for another four days. The U.S. Air Force troops there weren't allowed off the base.
We were always on our toes out there,'' Simmons said. It was pretty stressful.''
Now that he's back, Simmons is looking forward to working regular hours at Odom Co. distributors and buying a new truck with the money he saved during his deployment.
It will be nice to sleep in my own bed and eat my own food,'' Simmons said. I'll always remember I took part in the war. That's the one thing that I'll remember. I did my part.''
Nenana Police Chief Milt Haken was at the base to greet the only other officer in his police department.
It's been a big void in my life. I'm missing my partner,'' Haken said while waiting for the plane that carried James Brown home.
Like the others, Brown was first deployed to Kuwait for three months. He made it home in time for his baby daughter's birth before being sent to Saudi Arabia after a three-month break at home.
Brown was not the only one from the law enforcement ranks.
Fairbanks Police Officer Chris Nolan spent both his 40th birthday and New Year's Eve riding in a patrol vehicle with a Saudi patrol officer, listening to Saudi music.
Nolan, promoted to master sergeant just before he boarded the plane for home, was working with Saudis patrolling 250 square miles of the desert outside the base.
There's a lot of neat stuff out there,'' Nolan said, including camps of nomadic camel herders.
Nolan had a bottle of champagne to celebrate his reunion with his family. His wife, Bonnie, had a bouquet of red, white and blue carnations for her husband.
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