The second homecoming party in as many days swung into action at Salt Lake International Airport Thursday night when 13 U.S. Air Force servicemen came back from the Persian Gulf.
The airmen - six pilots, four members of the 2701st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron, a member of the 2952nd Combat Logistics Support Squadron, a member of the 2849th Air Base Group disaster preparedness team and a damage repair engineer from the Ogden Air Logistics Center - walked off their commercial jet and into the arms of their families and friends at 9:05 p.m., about 25 minutes later than expected.Those 25 extra minutes pushed the energy level in the arrival area sky-high.
"Pay attention to your flags," a woman told her young son. "I'm so nervous," another woman said.
Red, white, blue and yellow balloons bobbed above the crowd, which grew to about 200 people as passengers coming off another flight joined the party. Kids clambored onto window ledges, chairs, handrails and each other. They waved flags. They smeared the windows with noseprints. A contingent of the 2701st EODS, dressed in desert cammies, lined up and unfurled a huge "Welcome Home" banner.
A military public affairs spokeswoman coached the family members on how to give television reporters sound bites. By Friday, she said, troops all over the country would be coming home. But for now, the Utah troops were the big story. Don't say where your husbands were stationed, she said, and be careful if reporters ask political questions.
As another public affairs representative said, it wouldn't be a military event without a briefing.
A few family members took turns talking into camera lenses under the hot television lights. Amateur video camera operators filmed the filming. Those family members and friends who eschewed the spotlight paced, chatted, tried to keep their children calm. They created a happy din.
One woman, who said she was on her way to Texas but found the scene at gate A5 more interesting than at her own gate, reminisced about her Navy family's military homecomings after World War II and Vietnam. She pointed out a young woman in a pink smock, sitting serenely on the edge of the crowd with her eyes half-closed.
The young woman had gone into labor, but was determined to wait for her brother-in-law to walk off the plane. The baby was taking too long, she said. Maybe all the excitement would speed things up. Maybe she would go directly to the hospital from the airport.
The plane was at the gate. Someone yelled that the men were only 50 yards away. When they finally appeared, they were surrounded amidst whoops, applause, a few tears. The 2701st phalanx shouted out an Air Force cheer. Flashbulbs popped. The airmen grinned, hugged their wives, their children, their friends, talked into cameras, and were happy, they said, to be home.