Airmen step off plane, into arms of loved ones

Senior Airman Matt Owen, 16th Communications Squadron, is welcome home by his wife, Senior Airman Ali Flisek, 16th CS, after he returned home Monday night from deployment,  This was the first Operation Homecoming held at Hurlburt Field. (U.S. Air Force Photograph Senior Airman Andy Kin)

Senior Airman Matt Owen, 16th Communications Squadron, is welcome home by his wife, Senior Airman Ali Flisek, 16th CS, after he returned home Monday night from deployment, This was the first Operation Homecoming held at Hurlburt Field. (U.S. Air Force Photograph Senior Airman Andy Kin)

Family members cheer the arrival of their returning loved ones Monday night in Commando Hanger during the first Operation Homecoming.  More than 200 Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base Airmen returned home from Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force Photograph by Senior Airman Andy Kin)

Family members cheer the arrival of their returning loved ones Monday night in Commando Hanger during the first Operation Homecoming. More than 200 Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base Airmen returned home from Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force Photograph by Senior Airman Andy Kin)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla -- More than 200 Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base Airmen returned home to the Emerald Coast Mon-day night following deployments to Southwest Asia.

Airmen returning home from deployments are certainly nothing new to this special operations base, which has seen plane after plane of Airmen returning from the front lines of the Global War on Terrorism for nearly five years.

This time, instead of meeting their families at the deployment control center here, Airmen stepped off the jet airliner and directly into the arms of loved ones waiting for them in Commando Hangar.
This was all part of a new project called Operation Homecoming. Base leadership, in an effort to give Airmen a truly special heroes' welcome home, decked out the gunship hangar by ad-ding pomp and circumstance, complete with mini American flags, cake, 105 mm artillery shells and a red carpet.

Monday night was the first iteration of the event.

Hundreds of family members and friends waited anxiously on the bleachers in the hangar.
Some talked excitedly about what they were going to do when their Airmen returned home.
Haley Millhouse, daughter of Tech. Sgt. Tony Millhouse, 18th Flight Test Squadron, was looking forward to playing games and eating lunch with her dad.

"We're going to play Jenga," she said, holding her "Daddy Bear" - a photo cutout of her father in uniform transposed onto a small pillow complete with a pocket for the Tooth Fairy.

"And I'm going to give him "Pluto" kisses," Haley said, referring to the Disney cartoon dog.

For Haley's mother, Krista, the event was bittersweet. Sergeant Millhouse will be retiring soon and this would be his last "welcome home" from a deployment.

"It's kind of the end, but it's the start of a new chapter," said Mrs. Millhouse.

On the other side of the hangar, a seven-month pregnant Anna Hamman waited for her husband Capt. James Hamman, a pilot with the 4th Special Operations Squadron.

She was looking forward to her husband's return so they could finish the preparations for Baby Hamman who's scheduled to get his own welcome home in November.

"This is special," Mrs. Hamman said about the event. "I've picked him up at the DCC before, and that wasn't special. This is nice."

Almost like clockwork, Col. Michael Smietana, 16th Mission Support Group commander, announced to the crowd that the plane was arriving as the jet landed on the flight line in front of the hangar.

"Feel free to hoot and holler, and scream all you want," he said.

Hoot and holler they did. As the first Airmen stepped out of the plane down the stairs onto the tarmac, the building came alive with cheers, and of course tears.
In a matter of minutes, more than 200 Airmen were reunited with their loved ones.
Master Sgt. Jonathan Jones, 16th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was greeted by the Navarre Raiders football team.

The team who held up a sign welcoming their "Coach Jay" home.

"This is freedom right here," said Sergeant Jones, who wasn't expecting to see the team at the hangar.

"Coming home to these guys here, this is what it's all about."