By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell, 107th Airlift Wing
/ Published February 05, 2016
NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- Family members, friends and loved ones wait patiently with their signs and American flags, Feb. 5, creating a sea of red, white and blue.
They are patient, though highly anxious because it is the day that has been looked forward to for more than six months.
During that time it has been a rollercoaster of emotions, bringing everything from how to say goodbye for the last time to the thrilling moments of being able to talk to a loved one that is seemingly a million miles away. Now however, it all comes full circle and families can be reunited and start once again.
The excitement builds as notification arrives that the plane has landed. Children are waiting for their parents with balloons in hand, and mothers are waiting teary eyed for their children.
For the more than 30 Airmen from the 107th Security Forces Squadron here arriving at Buffalo International Airport, this is the day they finally get to come home. The Airmen are returning from a six month deployment to Kuwait.
"It was a long wait" said Susan Henderson with a laugh, mother of Senior Airman Shannon Carr who was one of the deployed Airmen. "We're so proud of what he's doing. "Things just get easier and easier now with FaceTime, he's got a baby nephew and he can watch him grow when he's gone."
Though families can remain in routine contact, the distance still makes it difficult said Henderson. So many important events were missed, but they are going to make up for it said Henderson. In the end, it is all about being proud Americans, said the mother with outstretched arms.
Capt. Nicholas Schmiegel, the 107th SFS commander, proudly echoes these sentiments and the service his Airmen have given these past several months.
"It's great to see them come back and see what they accomplished," said Schmiegel. "They get to be with their families, who have a sense of pride in what they do serving their country, and see them recognized by their unit."
The support that the Airmen receive from everyone back home can be vital to them accomplishing their mission. It gives the Airmen a sense of accomplishment, as well as helping them with reintegration once they get home, said Schmiegel.
"It's nice to see a familiar face once you come through those doors," said Schmiegel.
Beyond seeing a familiar face, there are also new faces to see. With newborns that some of the deployed Airmen have yet to meet, the anticipation is unmeasurable.
"We're so proud," said Kathy Owczarczak, mother of Master Sgt. Daniel Owczarczak who had a daughter born while deployed. "It's just a culmination of so many events, we missed him so much. To see him come home and meet his little baby daughter and see his two boys and his wife, who has been the hero of all of this and to come through all of this and be so strong and supportive."
Missing so much can be heartbreaking, but the family is proud of his service, said Owczarczak. Though far away, the Airmen have at their disposal the means to ease the struggle of being so far away.
"He did get to Skype, and he was right there on the iPad," said Owczarczak, clasping her hands. "It was like a miracle, just a moment we will never forget."
"It was amazing," said Master Sgt. Daniel Owczarczak, while holding one of his two eager sons. "Coming home to my family and my kids, last time I deployed I didn't have a wife and kids. Especially not being there for my daughter's birth and seeing her for the first time was a pretty surreal experience."
Such a moment can undoubtedly bring on a wave of emotions, but proud father said the only thing he wanted to do was hold his daughter. The Master Sgt. also takes time to make sure the Airmen he served with get the credit they deserve.
"Niagara has a lot to be proud of," said Owczarczak. "They did an amazing job over there. Even in times of controversy or things came up where there were hardships, they always persevered through everything and they really, really did an amazing job."
The deployed members of the 107th SFS never lost sight of their job, and always went to work and never complained, said Owczarczak, his eyes beaming. They always went in with a smile on their faces no matter how hard things got, said Owczarczak.
From celebrating a new life, there are also those who are going to celebrate a new future together. The homecoming saw Airman First Class Amanda Lavocat come home to a surprise engagement.
"I've had it planned for a while now, probably almost a year," said Justin Jurs, a member of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y. "When I knew she was deploying , I knew as soon as she got back it would be all planned."
Being a fellow service member allows Jurs to have a perspective into what it is like to be in his new fiancé's shoes. Being able to share those feelings while Lavocat was away helped them get through the time apart together, said Jurs, who remains calm amidst the excitement around him.
"The best day of my life," said Lavocat, raising her voice with a smile. Standing with her four year old daughter Brooklyn at her side, Lavocat said all she wanted to do was come home and see her. It was difficult being away and missing her family, but the experience was worth it, said Lavocat, nodding her head.
For the returning Airmen of the 107th SFS, the deployment is over and the immediate future involves plenty of family time. Six months can seem like a lifetime when you are away from everything that is familiar.
The 107th Airlift Wing here is proud, and so are the family members and friends that turned out to see their loved ones come home. After the festivities of being welcomed home, there is some well-earned down time.
"I'm just going to enjoy being home," said the future Mrs. Justin Jurs.