January 18, 2011
An American flag made of Christmas lights sat Tuesday on the lawn outside Marie Shelton’s house.
Inside, were stockings and presents wrapped with red, white and blue paper beneath a tree — one donned with an Air Force hat rather than a star.
Christmas, she said, could wait. All she wanted was her newly-wed husband.
Fighting back tears, Shelton and hundreds of other people on Tuesday welcomed back 150 reservists with the 302nd Airlift Wing who were ending a four-month deployment to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I’ve kind of had goose bumps and butterflies all day,” said Shelton, who married Capt. Bo Shelton just a couple months before he deployed. “It’s kind of that feeling of a first date.”
Since deploying in September, the reservists in the 731st Airlift Squadron, the 302nd Operations Group and the 302nd Maintenance Group flew or supported 350 missions and nearly 1,000 sorties, according to a release by the 302nd Airlift Wing.
The missions varied. The reservists ferried more than 12,000 troops, 300 wounded soldiers and 100 high-ranking officials in support of Operation New Dawn in Iraq and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
The wing also delivered 2,600 tons of supplies for those troops.
But in a swift change of pace, the reservists ran humanitarian missions — flying food to Pakistan to help those affected by the country’s recent widespread floods.
“Nobody could keep up with us,” said Bo Shelton, who oversaw aobut 60 reservists who maintained the planes. “These guys impressed the hell out of me every day we were there.”
Tales of efficient missions did little to assuage fears back home.
Meghanne Stevison has been married to Tech. Sgt. Lee Stevison for only half of his eight deployments. But she has never grown used to seeing her husband board a C-130 cargo plane.
In fact, the worries persisted, even as Lee Stevison spent nine days delivering food to Pakistan.
“It’s different, not easier,” said Meghanne Stevison, of each deployment.
All that calmed with the sight of the wing’s four C-130s speeding across the sky as the sun set to the west.
One girl held a sign proclaiming “Welcome back to the Mountainland Daddy.” Another offered a message for all the reservists: “God Bless the USA.”
And as they stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, laughter, cheers and shouts of “Daddy”—particularly from Stevison’s children — cut into the cold air.
Standing about a hundred feet from the C-130 that carried him home, Bo Shelton smiled and admitted “it’s definitely nice to be back on this soil.”
For Marie Shelton, Christmas finally had come.
“It’s wonderful,” she said.