Tuesday, December 27, 2011

305th Airmen facilitate return of last Airmen from Iraq

by Tech. Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
Defense Media Activity

12/27/2011 - BALTIMORE -- Airmen with the 305th Aerial Port Squadron Detachment 1 facilitated the return of more than 250 Airmen from Iraq Dec. 20 at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The Airmen were the last of the Air Force contingent in Iraq and were home in time for the winter holidays as stated by the president.

Airmen with the 305th APS Det. 1 processed the returnees through Air Mobility Commands largest passenger gateway, the AMC Passenger Service Center, at BWI.

The 305th APS Det. 1 is a detachment of Air Mobility Command's 305th Air Mobility Wing based at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

"This is what they do," said Maj. Edward Hogan, 305th APS commander originally from Shiloh Village, Ill. "Our Det. 1 professionals strive to make their small part of AMC's mission a reality every day. Watching them receive our warriors back with first-class professionalism and in a quiet and unassuming way, is just simply fulfilling. Although they work and reside hours from the 305th Air Mobility Wing they epitomize the 'CAN-DO' attitude without fail."

Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Rivera, 305th APS Det. 1 superintendent, originally from El Paso, Texas, and his team provide a complete range of passenger services to hundreds of thousands of DOD travelers between the Continental United States, Europe, and Southwest Asia at AMC's premier commercial gateway.

"I am fairly new to Baltimore and have been assigned here for only two and a half months. The missions we handle are equally special because they contain personnel who have family members eagerly awaiting the return of a loved one," said Rivera. "Though welcoming home the final personnel serving in Iraq was unique in itself as we, the United States, are closing a chapter in history and I am very fortunate to be directly involved."

Not only was Rivera involved in facilitating the retirees' transition back to America soil, but he was also exposed to large crowds of families, media outlets and Air Force senior leaders as he and his team fulfilled their mission.

Among the senior Air Force leaders on hand to celebrate the return of Airmen from Iraq and welcome them was Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton, the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force.

"We've been a part of a terrific joint team," Newton said. "We've made great strides in lifting up the Iraqi people so that they can now support and defend their nation, and now they can look forward to enjoying the freedoms they richly deserve. Our United States Air Force has made great contributions toward making that happen. It's been a worthy cause and it's great to bring them home now."

Tech. Sgt. Jason Harper, an airfield manager assigned to Yokota Air Base, Japan, was deployed to Sather Air Base and managed the airfield at Baghdad International Airport along with supporting Iraqi civilian air traffic control functions.

"It was a good feeling knowing we have given them all the tools they need to succeed," Taylor said of assisting the Iraqi military. "It was a very unique experience - something that I don't think I'll ever get the opportunity to do again - to go into Operation New Dawn and see the mission change into what it is now. I thoroughly enjoyed it. "

Maj. Gen. Anthony Rock, the director of Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission - Air Force, U.S. Forces - Iraq, U.S. Central Command, also returned home on the flight with Airmen who were under his command in Iraq.

"This represents the final chapter in Operation New Dawn, but I think the important thing to remember is this is not just the end of eight years of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn," Rock said. "This is the end of 21 years of Air Force and U.S. military involvement in and around Iraq."

A crowd of family members, USO volunteers, co-workers and well-wishers greeted the Airmen as they made their way through customs and into the lobby of the airport.

"It just makes your heart sore," Rock said of the outpouring of support from the community. "It really makes it all worthwhile."

The return home was the perfect Christmas present for the returning Airmen this holiday season, some after being away from their loved ones for up to a year.

Staff Sgt. Jerry Whitehurst was one of those eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Airmen at the airport. Whitehurst, who is stationed at Dover Air Force Base, Del., was serving in South Korea five of the six months his wife, Lt. Col. Pamela Howard-Whitehurst, who is assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., was deployed to Iraq. Whitehurst arrived back in the U.S. just two days before his wife.

While the couple was away from home serving their country, their two children stayed in Maryland and were cared for by an aunt and their nanny.

"This would've been our first missed Christmas, but we're flexible," Whitehurst said. "We're military, so we adapt easily and the kids would've been OK with it."

Whitehurst said his children were hoping their mother would be home in time to celebrate with them, but they weren't sure. He said he didn't tell the children the day their mother was arriving, and they plan to pick them up from their piano lessons after school to surprise them.

"They're going to go crazy," Whitehurst said. "I Skyped them every day, sometimes even two times a day while I was gone, but Mommy wasn't able to do that, so they miss her a lot more."

Whitehurst said there was one more gift his family received through his wife being deployed in support of the newly completed Operation New Dawn.

"We realized that life is a lot shorter than most people think, so we're planning a lot more vacations and spending more time together," he said. "We have to enjoy each other while we can."

These 250 Airmen expected the 2011 holiday season to be the last holiday spent in Iraq. Instead, the last thing they should see this season is the Iraqi landscape.

"There are many 'last of ... ' moments associated with the end of the Iraq mission for the DOD; however, to be part of welcoming home the last contingent of Airmen is indeed special," said Hogan. "The shaking of hands, high-fiveing and cheering as they exited customs was a small gesture that clearly made these specific Airmen's homecoming memorable for all involved. Additionally, to see so many Air Force senior leaders attend today's homecoming; mingle with the families; and welcome the Airmen home was inspiring and it made the moment very special."

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