Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun
Monday, Sept. 7, 2009 | 2:15 a.m.
Map of Nellis AFB
Beyond the Sun
Family and friends welcomed home 110 airmen to Nellis Air Force Base Sunday night just in time for the holiday.
Some families said the traditional Labor Day barbecue means even more this year because they will spend it with loved ones who had been serving a four-month stint in Iraq.
The airmen, assigned to the 58th and 66th Rescue Squadrons and the 763rd Maintenance Squadron, performed combat rescue operations, medical evacuation and humanitarian missions while at Joint Base Balad, north of Baghdad.
While deployed, they provided more than 2,000 hours of alert support, completed more than 400 missions and saved five lives through medevac missions.
The 763rd maintained the HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters used for the missions by both the 58th and the 66th pararescue airmen.
All who deployed returned safely, though a few are returning with equipment later this week, said Lt. Col. Thomas Dorl, commander of the 66th squadron.
“I’m extremely proud of them all,” he said. “The motto that we have in rescue is ‘these things we do, that others may live.’ They definitely embodied that.”
Senior Airman Darrick Tigner, with the 763rd, said the idea of being home would take some time to sink in.
“It feels real good,” he said. “You think about for so long when you’re out there, what it’s going to be like when you get home. Then when it happens, I can’t explain it. It’s surreal.”
The time spent away from loved ones and the comforts of home are always in the back of the mind, said Staff Sgt. Sarah Nicholas.
Nicholas was deployed in Afghanistan when her fellow 763rd members left for Iraq.
The squadron traditionally hosts a welcome home barbecue to get reacquainted and help returning airmen and women readjust to life at home, she said.
“Out there, you’re normally kind of set in specific things you can and can’t do,” she said. “Then coming back here and having the freedom and being around other people and how they are and then trying to adjust back to that. You miss the little things that you can’t do when you’re away.”
Rene Vaiasuso, 10, and her 9-year-old brother, Anthony Jr., spent most of the summer traveling with their grandparents in California to pass the time until their father, Tech Sgt. Anthony Vaiasuso, returned.
“I miss all his hugs when we’re upset,” Rene said.
Anthony Jr. added, “for me, basically, it’s everything.”