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Homestead Reservists return from Balad

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Metzger, 482nd Maintenance Group, reunites with his wife, Connie, and his two daughters upon returning from Balad Air Base, Iraq on Friday evening, Jan. 20.  About 40 HARB Reservists returned after spending up to 120 days supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. After leaving Iraq, they traveled through the Middle East, Germany, Iceland and Boston, Mass before arriving back at Homestead ARB (U.S. Air Force Reserve photo by Jake Shaw).

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Metzger, 482nd Maintenance Group, reunites with his wife, Connie, and his two daughters upon returning from Balad Air Base, Iraq on Friday evening, Jan. 20. About 40 HARB Reservists returned after spending up to 120 days supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. After leaving Iraq, they traveled through the Middle East, Germany, Iceland and Boston, Mass before arriving back at Homestead ARB (U.S. Air Force Reserve photo by Jake Shaw).

HOMESTEAD ARB, Fla -- Forty-one Air Force Reservists from the 482nd Fighter Wing arrived at Homestead Air Reserve Base Jan. 20 after spending 120 days deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq. 

For some reservists the trip home began more than a week earlier. 

“Some troops left as early as 10 days ago from Balad. The remainder left on Jan. 18 to arrive back on Jan. 20. They had to spend time in [other Middle Eastern countries] before catching their flight home,” said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Kaono, a contingency war planner with the 482nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. 

However, one Airman had to make an unexpected stop at Norfolk International Airport, Va., on the last leg of the trip, adding a few days to his journey. 

“I had a fever, was shaking, and had pain in my stomach. I thought it was an appendicitis, but it only turned out to be a kidney stone,” said Tech. Sgt Christopher Heinbaugh, F-16 crew chief. 

Despite having to make an extra stop on an already long journey home, no one seemed to mind, he said. 

“There was not one person who was upset about it. We all stuck together in Iraq, and now that we were coming home, we were still sticking together,” said Tech. Sgt. Heinbaugh. “It made me feel good.” 

For both family members and reservists, counting the days until their return was a rather difficult task. 

“He’s been gone for five very, very long months,” said Connie Metzger, wife of Senior Master Sgt. Michael Metzger, 482nd Maintenance Squadron. 

“It’s always stressful when he has to leave,” she said. “He’s been in 18 years so he has had to go quite a bit. So, it’s not his first time, but I’m just excited now.” 

This time around Mrs. Metzger found one thing that made the separation easier to bear. 

“E-mail was just fantastic. It really made me feel like I could keep a connection with him while he was over there. It was really the best way that we could keep in touch,” she said. 

Senior Master Sgt. Huey Meei Hill made the return trip late last year. “Sure you fly through a lot of places and it takes a while, but you’re going home, so you’re always excited,” she said. 

That sense of enthusiasm was noticeable this time around as well. 

“The excitement was running high. We all talked about what we wanted to do when we got back. For me, it was to get a Wendy’s triple. That’s what I was looking forward to,” Sgt. Heinbaugh said. 

”The trip normally takes only about 26 hours,” said Sgt. Kaono. “Our folks went from Iraq to [another Middle Eastern country] to Germany to Keflavic, Iceland, before hitting Boston and then on to home.” 

The reservists completed Air Expeditionary Force cycle 7/8. More 482nd Fighter Wing Reservists are scheduled to provide expeditionary combat support during another deployment between May and September this year.