120th SFS members welcomed home from deployment

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson
  • 120th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office
A hero's welcome greeted a group of 120th Fighter Wing Airmen when they returned to Great Falls, Mont. on July 16 after completing a six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Fourteen Security Forces personnel stepped off a commercial airliner shortly after midnight at the Great Falls International Airport and were met with a reception of family, friends and 120FW leadership. Cheers erupted in the airport as the Airmen walked into view of the anxious and waiting crowd.

Maj. Benjamin Royer, 120th Security Forces Squadron Commander, was proud of the responsibilities and wide range of work the Airmen assumed during the deployment.

"Our defenders maintain a high state of readiness while stateside, and displayed it while in the area of responsibility," Royer said. "They were recognized for their abilities and were assigned to several leadership positions. We had representation from our squadron in almost every facet of the security forces career field. I am absolutely proud of everything they did."

For Master Sgt. Mark Saali, 120th FW security forces member, he performed perimeter security and responded to alarms in his sector during the deployment. His assignment required him to work alongside members of the active duty Air Force and the Air Force Reserves. This arrangement allowed him to learn new career field techniques and also share his unique Air National Guard security experiences with his counterparts.

"I've been waiting for this deployment my whole career," said Saali. "It gives me a sense of pride and I brought back a lot of things I learned from there to better our unit. There were a lot of good experiences."

New technology allowed the Airmen to keep in close touch with their families while they were deployed. Master Sgt. Ed McLean, 120th FW security forces member, is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and is a first-hand witness to the communication advances made during the past 20 years.

"It's a big difference from the very first time I deployed where we were still writing letters and waiting for stuff to come from home," said McLean. "Most of us had opportunities to get personal laptops or go to the morale, welfare and recreation building where we could Skype. A lot of guys had their cell phones and could make calls from them without getting charged a large amount of money. Things have just definitely come a long way since the first time."

The senior, more experienced members of the group had deployed before, but this represented the first overseas deployment for the newest members of the group. Most of the Airmen agreed it was the longest trip they had spent away from family and friends.

Royer said that organizing welcome home ceremonies provides an opportunity to thank our returning veterans and reminds our fellow citizens that freedom is not free.

"Most Americans were at home asleep in their beds at the time of the team's late-night return," said Royer. "These ceremonies allow us a chance to publicly thank those who defended our freedom, recently and in bygone years, and assure those veterans that we are picking up where they left off and doing our part to carry on in the great cause of freedom."

The returning troops appreciated the reception provided during their late-night arrival at the airport. Senior Airman Sean Engum, 120th FW security forces member, his mother, father, girlfriend and several other friends showed up to welcome him home.

"That was actually very surprising," said Engum. "I was moved. I was not expecting as many people as there were."

"It was awesome," said McLean. "Just getting off the plane and seeing faces you haven't seen for six months, it's pretty heartwarming."

The recently returned security forces members are now planning to take some well-deserved time off now that they are back in the Big Sky Country of Montana.