The fighter jets readying to land Wednesday at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington were certainly grateful to be back in friendly skies.
“There are a lot of bullets flying in Iraq and Syria right now, and we definitely did see that, for sure,” Capt. Cash Shaner told reporters after returning home.
Shaner was among the first wave of airmen returning to Vermont from a nearly three month-long mission.
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“It’s just great to be back to be in the United States and get a chance to see some family and get some R & R,” Shaner said.
A squadron of F-16s and a large service and support staff deployed in early December to join ongoing combat operations in the Middle East against ISIS targets in parts of Iraq and Syria.
The pilots who flew back home in the F-16s Wednesday were met with applause, signs, and hugs — lots and lots of hugs.
Vermont commanders said the Green Mountain Boys’ time away was as smooth as could be expected under difficult circumstances, with no injuries to the deployed personnel.
“We are so proud of what they’ve done over the past few months,” said Maj. Gen. Steve Cray, the commander of the Vermont National Guard.
Cray and Col. Patrick Guinee, the commander of the 158th Fighter Wing, praised and thanked the families of deployed service members, saying their support and flexibility was critical to a successful mission.
“They flew over a year’s worth of hours in just over two months,” Guinee said, describing the exhausting nature of this mission. “That was around-the-clock operations.”
While nine jets and their pilots are now back, that was only a small fraction of the force that deployed. Following closely behind are nearly 300 support personnel, who are expected back home in Vermont in the coming days, Air Guard officials said.