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167th members return

Unit spent time in Oman desert

Unit spent time in Oman desert

August 02, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Sassy was unabashed in displaying affection when Master Sgt. Earl Lightner walked across the concrete and approached a large group of waiting family members and friends Friday morning.

Sassy ran over to Lightner, kissed him all over his face and then seemed hesitant to leave his side. He bent down and returned the affection of the black Labrador retriever, who had a bandanna emblazoned with the American flag around her neck.

Lightner was one of about 100 members of the 167th Airlift Wing who returned home Friday. Most have spent the last five months in Oman in the Middle East, dealing with sand, wind and heat.

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They flew supply, airlift and combat missions and transported VIPs throughout the areas of operation, said 2nd Lt. Andrew Schmidt.

Hundreds of people eagerly awaited the Air National Guard members' arrival, erupting in a cheer when each of the four C-130s carrying their loved ones roared down the runway.

Some people carried serious signs - "Thank you for serving our country" and "Daddy is my hero. I love him" - while others took a more humorous slant - "I don't want you tracking any sand into the house."

Many carried red, white and blue balloons or small flags.

While no redeployment orders have been authorized for the Guard members, Air Mobility Command officials are working on plans, Schmidt said.

During their time overseas, Guard members missed holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.

Pilot Mark Langley turned 40 years old while overseas. He said several of his buddies used their beer ration cards to buy him a cold brew that day and also bought him a knife for his flight suit. As Langley's family surrounded him, his son, Austin, 10, called the knife "cool."

One of Langley's four children, Austin said he was excited to see his father.

"It is very, very nice," he said. "I haven't seen him in a long, long time."

Kirsten Langley said she deferred making definitive plans for the couple's reunion, preferring to see what her husband wanted to do. Visiting family in Alabama is on the list of anticipated events, said Mark Langley, who also works as a pilot for American Airlines.

Although Langley has been in the Guard for 20 years, this was his longest deployment, his wife said.

Before all of the planes had landed, Maureen Dick clutched a small bouquet of flowers as she waited to see her husband.

"With a lot of prayer, we got through it," she said. "E-mail was our blessing."

Her husband, Tech. Sgt. Mike Dick, was in the Navy for eight years before joining the Guard, so the couple is used to separations.

"It's never easy. This is also the exciting part," Maureen Dick said, her eyes glancing toward the flight line. "You get to fill that big space in your life."

Tech. Sgt. Michael Derito spent several minutes hugging his family, including his wife, Tasha, and children, Sariah, 10, and Bradley, 5.

As Derito was interviewed, Bradley retrieved a cold can of Mountain Dew and handed it to his father.

"It's very emotional. Exciting," Tasha Derito said.

She said her husband changed a bit while overseas - by acquiring a tan.

When a friend walked over to Michael Derito, he commented that it looked as if somebody had stopped feeding him in the desert. With a glance down at his midsection, Derito confirmed he had lost some weight.

The couple plans to spend a week in Myrtle Beach, S.C., before Derito resumes his civilian job as an electrician.

Derito didn't seem to mind the prospect of spending more time amid sand.

"I guess it's a different type of sand. And there'll be some water," he said.

Time overseas was made easier by the quality of Derito's unit, in which people looked out for one another, he said. Derito, sent to the desert about a month ago to relieve a fellow Guard member, praised those who spent more time than him overseas. He pointed out Lightner, who was walking by with his dog.

Lightner, whose wife, Donna, also is a master sergeant in the Guard, said the days in the desert were long.

"Just like 'Groundhog Day' every day," Lightner, 53, said, referring to the movie in which one man re-lives the same day over and over.

Friday brought to an end all the previous times Guard members only thought they were going to come home.

"It's been canceled so many times we didn't think it was going to be true," Lightner said.

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