By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterFebruary 7, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 7, 2013) -- A happy gathering of Families and friends came together at the Spiritual Life Center as about 25 Soldiers of the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group who deployed to Afghanistan and Kuwait last year returned home Feb. 5.
In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Soldiers provided airfield oversight overseas, according to Col. Michael Shenk, commander of the 164th TAOG.
"They provided maintenance, standardization, safety and technical expertise to air traffic control units at expeditionary airfields throughout the Army Central Command area of operations in southwest Asia," he said.
The welcome home ceremony had a party atmosphere with upbeat, patriotic music, decorations, food and big Family smiles.
"We cleaned out the garage for [my stepdad]," said Briana Sims, who was waiting with her brother and mother, "which is a surprise. But, we are ready to have him back. My mom has been taking us out to dinner to help distract us from his absence and we do Family night where we go watch movies or go bowling together, but we are ready for him to do it with us. I am sure [my mom and dad] are looking forward to date night again, too."
Families consisted of old to young and those who walked on four legs as well as two. There were coloring sheets for children and plenty of things to talk about while waiting for loved ones to be united.
Some Family members, like Monica Preston, who was waiting for her husband who is an air traffic and airspace management tech warrant, said that though they are accustomed to frequent deployments, that there is always a transition period.
"Things change, but that is why we have our time together at first where we both are not overloaded," she said. "We are going straight to the cabins at Lake Tholocco and spending some quiet time together before he goes home to the kids and all the chaos of home."
Sgt. Felisha Gomez, who was welcomed home by her Yorkshire Terriers, also agreed that deployments change people, those who are home and those who are away.
"Being away always changes a person, but I can step back into the same mode that I was in before. Everybody grows," she said.
Preston said that her Family loves the Army life and is thankful for the technology that has kept her Family in touch with each other.
"We've Skyped every day, almost. We are in constant communication through emails, messages and phone calls, so the separation is not as difficult as it could be," she said, adding that she was thankful and relieved to have her best friend back.
The Soldiers that deployed consisted of Soldiers from all three of the 164th TAOG units on Fort Rucker: Headquarters Headquarters Company 164th TAOG, 1-58th Airfield Operations Battalion and the 597th Ordnance Company.
"For some Soldiers it was their first deployment while others had not seen their first born child. We are really happy, though, with how Fort Rucker sent us away and how they welcomed us home. It is a warm community to come back to," said Shenk.
The last of the deployed Soldiers will return in just over a month, he added.
The unit served as a senior authority on airfields, and traveled around to all the different airfields that the Army has responsibility for in that theater, which is about 12 to 15, according to Shenk.
"We worked on the equipment and evaluated the air traffic controllers and just how everything was going. We tried to make them safer and more standardized," he said.
"We had a really sufficient and safe team, the mission itself is pretty safe. The tasks were challenging, but everyone performed really well," said Shenk.
The Soldiers missed everything from their Families to the food to the sports, but Gomez seemed to sum it up for everyone when she said that she "just missed being in America, the food, the people, the climate. I missed it. It is good to be home."