Three months and thousands of miles later, all Air National Guard members are on Vermont soil! No injuries and no issues reported after providing air-to-ground combat support in the fight against ISIS.
Thursday night marked the final welcome home. With the smoke of tires hitting the tarmac, Vermont’s Air National Guard members were home.
“We kind of came, saw, conquered and we completed our goal, completed our mission,” said Airman Robert Shay. After a three month, “short notice deployment”, nearly 300 men and women were greeted by friends and family at the 158th Fighter Wing. The group joined 9 F-16 fighter pilots who returned home Wednesday.
“It was busy, long days, but the mission was great and the people were great. The aircraft were wonderful, they definitely challenged us,” explained Tech Sargent Beth Johnson. She was greeted by her family and her dog Porter Thursday evening. Johnson has served for more than 15 years. Not new to deployments, she spent her time overseas maintaining the jets, which were used to provide air-to-ground combat support for troops fighting ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, in both countries.
“One thing the VTANG does really well is we work together as a group. We have so many different shops, so many different specialists, and we all come together and hit this common goal, which is mission accomplishment,” said Airman Shay.
Colonel Chris Tumilowicz added, “There were some folks who were a part of the unit who didn’t get a day off the entire deployment, working 12 hour days. And if people were getting a day off, it was only one day every 7 or 8 days.”
The Colonel says their role in Operation Inherent Resolve was an all out sprint. He says it was amazing to see 300 people volunteer to make a difference in a war-torn region. “Knowing we are helping essentially liberate cities in those two countries, it makes it worth it, when you’re away from your friends and family and loved-ones,” he explained. But the group was relieved to get back to those loved ones.
A reunion night filled with hugs and smiling faces. When asked what they’re first activity would be now that they were back home, Airman Shay responded, “Probably going to grab a big ‘ol steak with the family, going out to dinner, and probably sleep a couple days.”
For Tech Sargent Johnson, “Can I say it? I’m going to have a beer, I’m ready for a good craft beer, not gonna lie,” she laughed.
Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th fighter wing has roughly 1,100 members. Their last deployment was another 3 month mission in the summer of 2015.