Enduring, then endearing: F-16 pilots, maintainers look forward to time off with loved ones after seven-month deployment

Apr 15 2011 - 11:15pm

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(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Kat Seltzer, of Clearfield, is overcome with emotion as she hugs her husband, Mike, an F-16 pilot, as he and other members of the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit return to Hill Air Force Base on Friday after being deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) A group of F-16s flies overhead before landing as they and other members of the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit return from being deployed to Afghanistan.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Children wear gear to protect their hearing from the sound of jet engines as they wait for members of the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit to return to Hill Air Force Base on Friday after being deployed to Afghanistan for the last seven months.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Kat Seltzer, of Clearfield, is overcome with emotion as she hugs her husband, Mike, an F-16 pilot, as he and other members of the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit return to Hill Air Force Base on Friday after being deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) A group of F-16s flies overhead before landing as they and other members of the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit return from being deployed to Afghanistan.
(ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner) Children wear gear to protect their hearing from the sound of jet engines as they wait for members of the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit to return to Hill Air Force Base on Friday after being deployed to Afghanistan for the last seven months.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE !-- When Lt. Col. Chris Bailey stepped off his F-16 and saw his family for the first time in nearly seven months, he immediately noticed how much his 5-year-old daughter, Erin, had changed.

"She definitely looks older," Bailey said. "Her mother doesn't, though."

Bailey's wife, Monica, replied with a short, "Good answer," and with that, the Uintah family of five settled in for two solid weeks of quality time together.

Friday afternoon at Hill Air Force Base, 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons and their pilots and 36 maintainers returned home from a near-seven month deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

In September, F-16 jets, pilots, maintainers and personnel assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

A second group of approximately 250 personnel from the group will return next week.

The unit's primary mission was to maintain security and stability in the region by providing close air support for coalition ground troops.

"With deployments getting longer, (Afghanistan) can be a tough mission," Bailey said.

"But it was great to see the incredible work that's going on over there. Until you've been over there, you don't realize the sacrifices people are making."

Bailey has been deployed to Afghanistan three times in his Air Force career, the first in November 2001.

He said with more deployments overall and longer time frames for them, pilots are quickly racking up plenty of combat flying hours in the region.

"We have some pretty young pilots who have already flown 100 missions," he said. "It's pretty amazing."

Along with his wife and daughter, Bailey's son, Nate, daughter, Corri, and a handful of other family members greeted him at Hill.

"It's just great to be back," he said.

Bailey and the other pilots and maintainers will receive two full weeks of down time for their efforts in Afghanistan.

Capt. Mike Seltzer, of Clearfield, also came home Friday, greeted by his wife, Kat.

"He was there for almost seven months, so I am beyond excited to see him," Kat said.

It took the pilots seven full days to fly home from Afghanistan, with their last stop at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.

Seltzer, who is tall for a pilot at 6 feet 4 inches, said he shrunk an inch or two during the long flight home.

"I was about 6-4 before I left," he said. "Now I'm probably 6-3. Sometimes I have to slouch to fit in the plane."

Col. Scott Long, who assumed command of the 388th Fighter Wing only one week ago, worked with the 4th Fighter Squadron in Afghanistan as commander of the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group at Bagram Airfield.

Long said he feels fortunate to already be familiar with a large group of personnel who now will be working under him.

"The world is very chaotic, and our job is to be ready at any time," he said. "The folks in this (group) are definitely up to that challenge."

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