Last Airmen out of Iraq arrive home for Christmas

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • Defense Media Activity
America welcomed home from Iraq more than 200 of her Air Force sons and daughters Dec. 20 at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The Airmen were the last of the Air Force contingent in Iraq and were home in time for the winter holidays as stated by the president.

Among the senior Air Force leaders on hand to celebrate the return of Airmen from Iraq and welcome them was Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton, the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force.

"We've been a part of a terrific joint team," Newton said. "We've made great strides in lifting up the Iraqi people so that they can now support and defend their nation, and now they can look forward to enjoying the freedoms they richly deserve. Our United States Air Force has made great contributions toward making that happen. It's been a worthy cause and it's great to bring them home now."

Tech. Sgt. Jason Harper, an airfield manager assigned to Yokota Air Base, Japan, was deployed to Sather Air Base and managed the airfield at Baghdad International Airport along with supporting Iraqi civilian air traffic control functions.

"It was a good feeling knowing we have given them all the tools they need to succeed," Taylor said of assisting the Iraqi military. "It was a very unique experience - something that I don't think I'll ever get the opportunity to do again - to go into Operation New Dawn and see the mission change into what it is now. I thoroughly enjoyed it. "

Maj. Gen. Anthony Rock, the director of Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission - Air Force, U.S. Forces - Iraq, U.S. Central Command, also returned home on the flight with Airmen who were under his command in Iraq.

"This represents the final chapter in Operation New Dawn, but I think the important thing to remember is this is not just the end of eight years of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn," Rock said. "This is the end of 21 years of Air Force and U.S. military involvement in and around Iraq."

A crowd of family members, USO volunteers, co-workers and well-wishers greeted the Airmen as they made their way through customs and into the lobby of the airport.

"It just makes your heart sore," Rock said of the outpouring of support from the community. "It really makes it all worthwhile."

The return home was the perfect Christmas present for the returning Airmen this holiday season, some after being away from their loved ones for up to a year.

Staff Sgt. Jerry Whitehurst was one of those eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Airmen at the airport. Whitehurst, who is stationed at Dover Air Force Base, Del., was serving in South Korea five of the six months his wife, Lt. Col. Pamela Howard-Whitehurst, who is assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., was deployed to Iraq. Whitehurst arrived back in the U.S. just two days before his wife.

While the couple was away from home serving their country, their two children stayed in Maryland and were cared for by an aunt and their nanny.

"This would've been our first missed Christmas, but we're flexible," Whitehurst said. "We're military, so we adapt easily and the kids would've been OK with it."

Whitehurst said his children were hoping their mother would be home in time to celebrate with them, but they weren't sure. He said he didn't tell the children the day their mother was arriving, and they plan to pick them up from their piano lessons after school to surprise them.

"They're going to go crazy," Whitehurst said. "I Skyped them every day, sometimes even two times a day while I was gone, but Mommy wasn't able to do that, so they miss her a lot more."

Whitehurst said there was one more gift his family received through his wife being deployed in support of the newly completed Operation New Dawn.

"We realized that life is a lot shorter than most people think, so we're planning a lot more vacations and spending more time together," he said. "We have to enjoy each other while we can."