Relieved Utah families welcome airmen home from Korea
Weeks of tension for families of Hill Air Force Base airmen ended Monday morning when 150 airmen from the 388th and 419th fighter wings returned from the Korean Peninsula.
"I was terrified," said Celina Dews, who wore a strappy long sundress to meet her husband, Dante Dews, as he arrived on a chartered Delta jet on a chilly morning.
Threats by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un to launch nuclear missiles against South Korea this spring worried families back home. They fretted that the six-month deployment might be extended or that the airmen would end up fighting to defend the United States' ally South Korea.
Col. Scott Long, commander of the 388th, said the training by the 29 F-16 pilots and 200 maintenance and support crews, (including 20 from the 419th Reserve wing), was unaffected by North Korea's threats.
Even so, he praised the "Fighting Fuujins" as the 4th Squadron calls itself, for keeping that part of the world "free and strong."
"Because of your work and your dedication, the guys up north thought twice," he told the returning airmen as their children played in a bounce house set up in a hangar for the welcome-home party.
The 4th Squadron had been at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea since early October, providing F-16 air support in the region as part of a routine U.S. Pacific Command rotation.
The jets, pilots and another 25 support and maintenance airmen will return later in the week.
Long acknowledged it will be a bittersweet return for the 4th Squadron's pilots, who, because of federal budget slashing, will not fly again for the rest of the budget year.
Airman Joe Crawford, whose 4-month-old daughter, Melina, was born while he was away, said the politically uncertain situation was harder for those back home.
"He kept calming me down, saying, 'It's just business as usual here,' " said his wife, Amanda Crawford, also an active-duty airman. The couple live on the northern Utah base.
They learned she was pregnant after Joe had already committed to the deployment. She gave birth in Ogden on Dec. 21; her mom came from Ohio to help and Joe Crawford's mother came from Las Vegas.
Melina wore a camouflage cap emblazoned with her name. Her T-shirt said, "Welcome home, Daddy. I've waited my whole life to meet you."
The new father scooped the baby into his arms after giving her mother a hug.
"I wanted to be here," said Crawford. "But you've got to do what you've got to do."