16th Airlift Squadron greeted with open arms after 4-month deployment

Family members welcome home 130 airmen
Family members welcome home 130 airmen

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Family and friends are giving a heroes' welcome home to more than 130 airmen who've been deployed for 120 days in Turkey.

"Welcome back and I love You," are the first thing Kina Wilkening said to her husband Wes  touched down in Charleston Thursday.

The plane arrived at Joint Base Charleston just before 7 a.m. Thursday morning with the airmen from the 16th Airlift Squadron.

"My friend surprised me with this sign," Wilkening said. "It's people like this in our community that really makes it so worth it."

While deployed, they served under the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron overseas, supporting combat operations in the US Central Command.

"It's been really hard, especially with all the holidays," said Sommer Rangle, the fiance of one airman returning home. "But we have our own little family outside our family. All the other girls we've become a family to each other, but it's incredibly hard."

Flying the C-17 Globemaster III, the crews flew more than 3,000 sorties, logged more than 9,500 combat flying hours, airlifted more than 100 million pounds of combat material, and assisted tens of thousands of troops.

"Skype is our bread and butter," Rangle said of how she keeps in touch with her fiance overseas. "Phone calls here and there but mostly Skype. It's the only way we get to see each other."

Hundreds showed up bright and early at the base to welcome home their loved ones.

"I'm so proud of him," said Rachel Watson of her son Josh Denny. "He's a such a great young man. He's turned into a wonderful son and a wonderful father. I'm just really proud of him."

Wives, children, moms and dads made signs and waived flags to great the 130 airmen.

"He loves the Air Force. He enjoys it so much and he's so dedicated to his job and he loves his family even more," Watson said. "I'm sure he is delighted to be home. We're looking forward to having him back."

Being home will be nice for the airmen, but even better might be an American meal, according to one returning airman who requested food from Sonic and to see his dog.

"It feels amazing. It's been a long time coming. It's been a long day today," he said. "It's been tough, not being able to talk whenever you want. It's hard, but it makes coming home a lot better too."

For some, it wasn't the first time being away from their loved one.

"This is his third deplyoyment so I've kind of been throught his before, but it doesn't get any easier, Katrina Denny said. "Family and friends come and visit us and try to keep our minds occupied. I'm so excited to have him home. He's such a great Dad and I know he can't wait to meet his baby girl."

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