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Little Rock reservists receive homecoming salute

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Family, friends and co-workers turned out Jan. 8 to honor 65 reservists in the 96th Aerial Port Squadron here.

The Airmen were activated in 2004 and deployed to Pope AFB, N.C., and to Southwest Asia to support Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. For their service, each received the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal during a homecoming ceremony. "Our guys helped break every Air Mobility Command record transporting everything from troops and their supplies to distinguished visitors," said Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Bissett, 96th APS air transportation superintendent. "They all did a great job, and their service will not be forgotten."

The squadron, the only Air Force Reserve Command unit in Arkansas, directly impacted coalition war-fighting capabilities. The unit reservists worked with other aerial porters, including those from the active force and Air National Guard, to move more than 350,000 U.S. troops, 16,000 Iraqi security forces and 400,060 tons of cargo in the Central Command area of responsibility. Also, they facilitated and tracked more than 2,700 C-17 and C-130 aircraft sorties in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

The activation affected people from all walks of life and pay grades.

Chief Master Frankie Harris, an elementary school principal, said he was not surprised when he got the call to be brought on to active duty.

“When the war started … I talked to the (school) superintendent,” said Chief Harris. “I said, ‘You know that this has started, and I might have to go.’

“We started preparing then,” he said. “I am glad we all got the opportunity.”

Senior Airman Robert Smith, a Baptist pastor, deployed twice for a total of 170 days to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said he was excited about being reunited with his family.

“Serving was a sacrifice … but I definitely feel a sense of pride and maturity,” Airman Smith said. “I learned a lot and grew as a person.”

Not all of the reservists are returning to civilian life. Seven have opted to extend and remain on active duty for a second year.