Rain dampened the ground, but not the spirits of Utahns who cheered while Utah medical units returned from the Persian Gulf Saturday night at the Salt Lake International Airport. One family even brought the family dog to help welcome home their father.
The 321st Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulatory) and the 144th Evacuation Hospital unit deployed to the Middle East last November ended their duty, packed up and came home. Approximately 400 local doctors, nurses and medical specialists were called to active duty to support Operation Desert Storm. Thirty to 40 are still in the Middle East serving as a mop-up crew and will return at a later date.The 321st Medical Detachment unit flew extensive missions in support of Operation Desert Storm and was one of the first medevac units to cross into Iraq, said Maj. Jim Potter, spokesman for the 96th U.S. Army Reserve Command.
The soldier and medical personnel were greeted with a hangar full of hundreds of cheering friends and family members who anxiously waited for their loved ones to return home. They all carried either balloons, yellow ribbons and flowers, welcome-home banners, American flags, cameras or camcorders. "It's like a circus," one man said.
Cheryl Nelson has been married to her husband Bruce for 13 months but hasn't seen him for 11 of them. "I sure miss him and am glad he's back," she said. "Our phone bills are atrocious but it didn't matter."
Coming from a hot climate with daytime temperatures in the low 100s and a long hot plane ride home, the troops didn't mind the rain.
"I like the rain. It feels really good," said Bob Beesley, a lab specialist. "It feels good to be home and I'm going to take a vacation now." Bob's wife was too anxious to wait and was one of the first wives to jump over the rope separating the troops from the crowd and run to give her husband a big hug.
Some of the welcome home signs read: "Welcome Home `R' Gang!" "We Love Our Troops," and "God Bless the USA."
Annette Cridle has taken care of her sister Janna Huff's daughter during her absence and was eager to welcome her home. "They've done their time," she said.
After family members met with their loved ones they caught up on lost time while listening to a band playing patriotic tunes in an adjacent hangar.
The 159th Support Group and the 651st Quartermaster Company also returned to the Salt Lake Airport Saturday en route to their home locations in Montana. Some of those unit members are from the Salt Lake area and will be staying here.