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Alaska Guardsmen return from deployment

Airmen and family members await the arrival of 34 Airmen from the 168th Wing who returned from a two-month deployment in Southwest Asia, October 16, 2016. Following the landing, family members, friends, and co-workers were guided to the hangar where they welcomed home the returning Airmen. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Mae S. Olson/Released)

Airmen and family members await the arrival of 34 Airmen from the 168th Wing who returned from a two-month deployment in Southwest Asia, October 16, 2016. Following the landing, family members, friends, and co-workers were guided to the hangar where they welcomed home the returning Airmen. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Mae S. Olson/Released)

Thirty-four Airmen from the 168th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard return home from a 70+ day deployment to Southwest Asia, October 16, 2016. The two KC-135R Stratotankers performed a two-ship formation overhead as they crossed above the runways of Eielson AFB, Alaska, signifying the completion of their deployed mission. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann/Released)

Thirty-four Airmen from the 168th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard return home from a 70+ day deployment to Southwest Asia, October 16, 2016. The two KC-135R Stratotankers performed a two-ship formation overhead as they crossed above the runways of Eielson AFB, Alaska, signifying the completion of their deployed mission. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann/Released)

Tech Sgt. Ezra Pitzer, crew chief with the 168th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, communicates with the aircraft pilot by signaling from the flight line outside of the unit’s hangar at Eielson AFB, Alaska, October 16, 2016. The pilot of the KC-135R Stratotanker listens and watches as the crew chief directs both aircraft and ground personnel during taxiing in order to safely park the aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann/Released)

Tech Sgt. Ezra Pitzer, crew chief with the 168th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, communicates with the aircraft pilot by signaling from the flight line outside of the unit’s hangar at Eielson AFB, Alaska, October 16, 2016. The pilot of the KC-135R Stratotanker listens and watches as the crew chief directs both aircraft and ground personnel during taxiing in order to safely park the aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann/Released)

Lt. Col. Matthew Mrzena, instructor pilot from the 168th Air Refueling Squadron, is welcomed home by family and friends after a two-month deployment in Southwest Asia. As part of a military tradition, Mrzena was drenched in water upon arrival because today’s flight was his last as a member of the Alaska Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Mae S. Olson/Released)

Lt. Col. Matthew Mrzena, instructor pilot from the 168th Air Refueling Squadron, is welcomed home by family and friends after a two-month deployment in Southwest Asia. As part of a military tradition, Mrzena was drenched in water upon arrival because today’s flight was his last as a member of the Alaska Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Mae S. Olson/Released)

Lt. Col. Buck Smith is welcomed home for the last time by his wife Karyn just outside of the 168th Maintenance Group’s hanger at Eielson AFB, Alaska, October 16, 2016, where he and 33 other Airmen from the interior-Alaska Air Guard unit, were greeted by friends and family after they returned home from an extended deployment to Southwest Asia. This was the final deployment for Smith, who will be retiring from the 168th Wing in December 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann/Released)

Lt. Col. Buck Smith is welcomed home for the last time by his wife Karyn just outside of the 168th Maintenance Group’s hanger at Eielson AFB, Alaska, October 16, 2016, where he and 33 other Airmen from the interior-Alaska Air Guard unit, were greeted by friends and family after they returned home from an extended deployment to Southwest Asia. This was the final deployment for Smith, who will be retiring from the 168th Wing in December 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann/Released)

Master Sgt. Jeffrey Skaggs, fuels systems mechanic, poses with his family after being welcomed home from a two-month deployment to Southwest Asia, October 16, 2016. Skaggs’ family was among the crowd of observers who watched as two KC-135R aircraft from the 168th Wing landed on the flight line here at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, bringing home their loved ones. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Mae S. Olson/Released)

Master Sgt. Jeffrey Skaggs, fuels systems mechanic, poses with his family after being welcomed home from a two-month deployment to Southwest Asia, October 16, 2016. Skaggs’ family was among the crowd of observers who watched as two KC-135R aircraft from the 168th Wing landed on the flight line here at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, bringing home their loved ones. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Mae S. Olson/Released)

Senior Airman Zach Raby, medical technician with the 168th Medical Group, Alaska Air National Guard, takes a blood sample from Master Sgt. Jeff Skaggs during in-processing procedures at the wing’s operations building October 16, 2016. Thirty-four Airmen from the 168th returned home after an extended deployment to Southwest Asia, and were greeted by family, friends, and co-workers inside the unit’s maintenance hangar here on Eielson AFB. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann))

Senior Airman Zach Raby, medical technician with the 168th Medical Group, Alaska Air National Guard, takes a blood sample from Master Sgt. Jeff Skaggs during in-processing procedures at the wing’s operations building October 16, 2016. Thirty-four Airmen from the 168th returned home after an extended deployment to Southwest Asia, and were greeted by family, friends, and co-workers inside the unit’s maintenance hangar here on Eielson AFB. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann))

Staff Sgt. Brent Garrison, medical technician with the 168th Medical Group, Alaska Air National Guard, draws blood from the arm of Capt. John Goeres during in-processing procedures at the wing’s operations building October 16, 2016. The blood draw is a mandatory procedure for all returning service members, and is part of a post-deployment health assessment that is required by the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann)

Staff Sgt. Brent Garrison, medical technician with the 168th Medical Group, Alaska Air National Guard, draws blood from the arm of Capt. John Goeres during in-processing procedures at the wing’s operations building October 16, 2016. The blood draw is a mandatory procedure for all returning service members, and is part of a post-deployment health assessment that is required by the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Paul Mann)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Thirty-four Airmen from the 168th Wing returned home from a deployment to Qatar on Oct. 16, and if previous deployments are any indication of mission tempo, these Airmen were busy.

Aircrew and maintenance Airmen from the 168th deployed transferred more than 30 million pounds of fuel, and flew more than 1,000 hours in support of the United States and coalition forces, according to Master Sgt. Robert Mercado, assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of the 168th Operations Group aviation resource management, or HARM office,

"Our Alaska Air National Guard Airmen are the absolute best at what they do. Deploying in support of the war on terrorism, taking the fight to the enemy, upholds the finest American and Alaskan traditions of service and sacrifice," said Col. Bryan White, 168th Operations Group commander.

Airmen flew home onboard two of the Interior Alaska unit's KC-135R Stratotankers, and flew in a two-ship formation overhead, flying just above the runway at Eielson Air Force Base, "the culmination of a successful deployment to Southwest Asia," said Lt. Col. Jhonny Polanco, acting commander of the 168th Air Refueling Squadron.

Not only was this the return home for 34 Airmen, it was the final trip home for two members of the operations group, Lt. Col. Buck Smith and Lt. Col. Matthew Mrzena. Smith exited the aircraft and walked into the open arms of his wife Karyn, both knowing that he will be retiring this December from the 168th Wing and from the Air National Guard.

"We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and are very thankful they are now home safely with their families," said White.

For Mrzena it was a little different welcome, a somewhat wet welcome. This was his final flight, or "fini flight" with the 168th.

The fini flight is a tradition that dates back to World War II and is a celebration for an aviator, their family and friends, and signifies the end of an airman's career or transfer to another air frame. It generally involves the Airman getting sprayed down or drenched with water.

Mrzena was greeted at the base of the aircraft's passenger stairs by Polanco sporting a fire hose, while Mrzena's crew doused him with bottled water from above. The flight marked the last time Mrzena will be a crew member on board an Air National Guard aircraft, and possibly the last in his career. He is transitioning back to the active duty Air Force and will no longer have a flying position.

Luckily for Mrzena, his drenching happened inside the group's hanger, and not outside where temperatures were in the teens. Quite the difference from where these Airmen had just left: Qatar and its average October temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or Fairbanks and its average October temperature of 27 degrees.

"Man, it's cold in here," said Lt. Col. Mrzena as the water dripped down his forehead.