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Hometown heroes saluted

December 06, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

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    MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Air National Guard members were touted for their service Sunday and their families were lauded as "unrecognized heroes" at the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg.

    The Air National Guard's Hometown Heroes Salute is a nationwide program meant to honor the more than 53,000 airmen nationwide who have deployed since Sept. 11, said Linda Brooks, program manager.

    The Martinsburg ceremony honored about 400 airmen who have been deployed more than 30 days since Sept. 11, 2001.

    Sunday was also about honoring the sacrifices of service members' families.

    "The unrecognized heroes are the families," said Col. Roger Nye. "They are the patriots in this nation."

    Master Sgt. Aaron Nelson of Keedysville stood holding his infant son, Reid. His wife, Amy Nelson, and 3-year-old daughter, Ava, stood beside the two as they waited to be seated.

    In his 13 years with the unit, he's been deployed a total of 13 or 14 months, Nelson said.

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When her husband is gone, once for 60 days, the hardest part is, "with kids, not having the partnership and help," Amy Nelson said.

Staff Sgt. Craig Pearrell of Morgan County, W.Va., knows what it's like to leave his family behind. For his last deployment -- to Iraq from July 2008 to February 2009 -- Pearrell had to leave home when his youngest daughter was 9 months old. When he left, she couldn't walk or talk.

"I come back and she's done everything," he said.

That wasn't the only thing that was hard for Pearrell while he was away from his family.

"You're so used to doing things with them. They get used to doing things without you," he said.

It's not just fathers who get called away from home.

Master Sgt. Karen Minch of Inwood, W.Va., has been deployed seven times, usually for five to six months at a time, since Sept. 11, 2001.

Each time, she has to leave her sons, now ages 12, 15 and 18.

Her husband is a firefighter who works away from home for 24-hour stretches and they have no family in the area.

"We relied on friends and co-workers to help us out," she said.

Even when deployed to Kuwait or Iraq, Minch tried to call home several times a day by land line or through a computer.

"Before school and after school, just like a parent was there," Minch said.

Each service member was called by name, and received a framed letter of thanks and Hometown Heroes Salute coin. Spouses and significant others received engraved pen and pencil sets, and their children were given dog tags.

Each airman also received a "center of influence" medallion, which they can present to someone who "assisted your family in your absence," said Chief Master Sgt. John Alderton.

While speaking to the crowd, Alderton talked about how service members are sometimes viewed as heroes.

"I just did my job," Alderton said.

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