Hill AFB air control squadron returns from six-month deployment

Jul 22 2013 - 6:16am

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Tony O’Conner-geiling proposed Sunday to his girlfriend Laura Boyce at Hill Air Force Base upon returning home from a six-month deployment to the Middle East. 

(BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Tony O’Conner-geiling proposed Sunday to his girlfriend Laura Boyce at Hill Air Force Base upon returning home from a six-month deployment to the Middle East. 

(BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Not wanting to miss any more moments than necessary after six months apart, Crystal Maldonado, of Roy, and her 5- and 3-year-old girls scanned the sea of uniforms from the 729th Air Control Squadron. The airmen, 140 in all, were debarking from the 747 at Hill Air Force Base on Sunday afternoon after their deployment in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan.

When Maldonado sent her husband off back in January, snow lined the streets, and now in the heat of July, after months of stress trying to keep things under control at the house, it came down to minutes of excited anticipation.

"Our life is hectic during deployment, but it's their job, and I know serving our country is worth it," said Crystal Maldonado, who has also experienced a deployment as active-duty military.

After several warm moments filled with joyful reuniting, her husband, Staff Sgt. Mike Maldonado talked about his experience.

"I do it because my family deserves my dedication and devotion to our country, and someone's got to do it," he said.

Col. Jay Bickley, 552nd Air Control Wing commander, flew to Utah from the home base at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City for the return of the 729th Air Control Squadron currently stationed at Hill.

"Every time we deploy forces, we take it very seriously, because it is a family business we're in, since the impact is felt across the entire family," Bickley said. "This is the happy part of the deployment, because we get to welcome them home and support them for their service."

It was truly a celebration, because all 140 members of the squadron returned home safe. Their homecoming was certainly party-like, with music, bounce houses, face painting and food -- a far cry from the somberness of their send-off six months ago.

While Dennis Monroe, of Clearfield, waited anxiously for his grandson to get off the plane, he reflected back to saying goodbye to his grandson.

"It was very somber, and we had to say goodbye at home, because it's harder for them to leave if we are here at the air force base," Monroe said.

In contrast, tears of happiness were shed by his wife as the two talked about the party they planned to have after the reunion.

"There's only one emotion we have right now -- relief that he's home and safe," Monroe said. "We worry while he's gone, but we keep ourselves busy, and we know he's well-trained."

Emily Hardy, of Farmington, was there to support her best friend, who was anxious to welcome home her husband.

"I've always had a respect for soldiers. Not everyone gets to welcome them home, so it's an honor for me to be here and have this opportunity," Hardy said.

Numerous members of the squadron who hadn't been deployed were there to cheer on their comrades. Staff Sgt. Andrew Hughes was all ready to go with his plastic trumpet, so he could make as much noise as possible.

Hughes said, "We are like family, so I wanted to be here and show them that we care about what they did over there."

The squadron does not plan to have another deployment until next year.

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