HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Nearly 200 airmen landed at Hill Air Force Base Saturday morning after a six-month deployment to South Korea, and their friends and family were thrilled to see them back safe.
"Today is just a beautiful day," said Col. Scott Long, commander of the 388th fighter wing to the group gathered in a hangar. "What a great way to celebrate Easter."
The homecoming comes in the wake a U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter crash into an apartment complex in Virginia on Friday that sent fireballs into the sky and damaged six buildings. The crew ejected and remarkably no one was killed or severely injured in the crash.
Long called the training mission crash "unfortunate," and said those who serve in the armed forces face risks, even if they're not in a war zone.
"It's certainly a dangerous business," he said. "There's a lot on the line."
Long noted the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December, and said it was "a very turbulent time" for the airmen. Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un assumed office following his father's death.
Rachelle Jones, mother of seven children, said despite the events in North Korea, she was confident her husband, Scott, would be safe, but she was glad he was back.
"My sister's husband just left for Afghanistan," she said. "I'm glad I don't have that constant worry."
Balancing a plate with a bagel and juice box in one hand, and holding the hand of Jeremiah, her 14-year-old autistic son in the other, Jones said she was grateful she could talk to her husband daily online. She called life without her husband "crazy," but said her older daughters had stepped up since their father deployed.
"It just varies from day to day, hour to hour," she said. "Sometimes, it's just hard to get out the door."
Her 12-year-old daughter Rebecca, said one of the the first things she'd do with her dad was go rock climbing, while 4-year-old Jessie had made a crown out of green and blue pipe cleaners, her dad's favorite colors she said.
"Someone put a bunch of flags at my house and that's because my dad is coming home," Jessie said.
Families and friends waited in the hangar for more than an hour for the 388th fighter wing to arrive, and when it did, the crowd moved outside, signs, balloons and American flags in hand. As everyone headed out, Jones could be seen counting her kids under her breath.
"One, two, three, four, five, six," she said. "Where's Patrick?"
When she gathered all her children, they walked outside, the older children carrying their younger siblings on their shoulders.
When Scott Jones reached his family, he hugged them all and bended down to talk with the little ones.
"It's great to be back," Scott Jones, said. "I just can't wait to spend time with them again. We finally get to celebrate our anniversary!"
Scott called Rachelle a great mother, "obviously," and Rachelle said she was looking forward to Scott helping with the cleaning.
"My husband is usually the one who stays on top of that," she said.
Kelli Henderson, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, said she was looking forward to reconnecting with her husband, Allen, who returned home Saturday.
"It's hard," she said. "It's kind of like being a single parent. You always have concerns about what's going on because you never know. We just keep them in our prayers and hope for the best.