Connecticut Guard members return home on a fourth to remember

While Staff Sgt. Bailee Graveline was deployed in southwest Asia since February, she missed her little sister’s first words and her crawling and walking.

Her homecoming Tuesday at Bradley Air National Guard Base was a happy reunion with Abi, now 1 year old and sporting a red-white-and-blue hat perfect for July 4.

“Five months is a lot when it comes to little family members,” Graveline said, holding her baby sister in her arms.

A crowd of family members and friends celebrated a special Independence Day, greeting the returning 27 members of the Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Airlift Wing.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman led a receiving line of Air National Guard members who gave hugs and handshakes to their returning friends and colleagues disembarking from the C-130H aircraft.

About 100 members of the airlift wing began returning home on Tuesday. Of the nearly 300 airmen who began to deploy late last year, more than 200 have returned safely, the Connecticut National Guard said. Those still deployed will return throughout the summer.

The airmen deployed to undisclosed locations in southwest Asia and worked in combat support operations such as tactical airlift, maintenance, security and logistics support.

The 103rd Airlift Wing has deployed members and equipment to support missions in the Middle East, backing operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Family and friends who gathered in the brilliant sunshine took selfies, waved American flags and held oversized “welcome home” signs.

“We can really celebrate the fireworks tonight,” said Tina Saunders, who was waiting for her son, Lt. Col. John Saunders.

Asked what she will do when her son returns home after a four-month absence, Saunders, of Newington, said, “Be really happy. Be relieved. It’s hard on moms.”

John Saunders said the Fourth of July homecoming was a “great time to come home. Anytime would be good to be home.”

His plans for the holiday, he said, were to “lift a couple of beers and relax with family.”


(c)2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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