1 of 5
Michael Brandy, Deseret News
A KC135R Stratotanker sits Sunday at the Air National Guard Base with Utah airmen who had served in the Kyrgyz Republic since June.

As tons of gray steel glided down the runway, a feeling of anticipation was in the air.

The anticipation was felt by the families of returning airmen of the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing, who had been gone for two months.

Cheers erupted as the KC135 touched down at the UANG's runway. While the turbines spun, the pilot of the giant aircraft finessed it into a corner of the airfield.

The families had to wait a little longer before they could get their precious cargo because some less important cargo had to be unloaded from the aircraft first.

The 151st flew refueling missions in the Kyrgyz Republic, at the Manas Air Base, to support coalition planes flying military missions over Afghanistan. While they were there, they broke the record for the number of aircraft launched (15) and amount of fuel (almost a million pounds) dispensed in a single day to various aircraft.

Now, almost 40 of the airmen of the 151st were home, and the others are not far behind.

The stair car finally moved toward the aircraft amidst cheers, to release the inhabitants from their fuselage holding cell. When the gray aircraft door raised to the sky, the crowd cheered again. Tech. Sgt. Nick Thompson scanned the crowd from his place on the plane, and sparks flew as he locked eyes with his wife, Chanel.

He had to wait though, until others left the plane.

Angel Wallace and her son, Jay, were looking for Master Sgt. Alex Wallace, her husband of 27 years. She said she came to surprise him — he had told her they were flying in Tuesday.

"He doesn't know I'm here," she said.

His planned surprise turned into her surprise when, jumping up and down, she shouted his name as he walked across the tarmac. She broke ranks and jumped into his arms. He hugged his wife and son.

The master sergeant has another surprise waiting for him. While he was gone, his grandson, Jessie Jay, was born.

Thompson still waited his turn.

Nine-year-old Madison Petersen was with her mother, Lori, waiting for her brother, Sr. Airman Bradley Westover. Madison made a card for Westover because he turned 21 while he was gone. The birthday card said "I love you and I wish you never left," Madison said.

Lt. Col. Jon Jungemann walked down the stairs toward his wife and two teenage children. The trim gray-headed airman pointed to them and said "the best part of being home was his family."

Thompson finally made it down the stairs and embraced Chanel. They held each other and kissed next to the plane.

"I missed him so much," Chanel said.

She said it feels good to have him home, and they plan to have "lots of vacation."

Nobody knows what the future holds. Angel Wallace said she wouldn't let her husband leave if she had her way. However, while their airmen are home, everybody plans to catch up with things missed during their absence.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com