RI National Guard unit returns home
NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. -- Kari Kling put on a pretty black dress Friday and drove to Rhode Island's Quonset Air National Guard field to welcome her husband home from war.
The area by the runway was filled with wives, mothers, fathers and children. Del's Lemonade, a Rhode Island favorite, sent over a lemonade cart for the returning soldiers. Two congressmen showed up.
Twenty-one-year-old Kling saw none of it. The Coventry woman's teary eyes locked on the plane as it landed, the one that brought Spc. John Kling home. For several agonizing minutes it sat on the runway.
"Open the door!" she shouted at no one. "Open the door!"
It opened, and out walked 100 beaming Rhode Island National Guard members of the 1207th Forward Support Company. The soldiers spent nearly a year protecting bases in Kuwait and convoys moving in and out of Iraq. Hot, tedious and potentially deadly work.
"They all did incredibly well," said their commander, Capt. Brian Fielder.
Fielder, of Warwick, said his soldiers used Skype and Facebook to stay in touch with loved ones. But virtual connections only go so far, Fielder said as he held his son Noah to his chest. Noah wasn't even a year old when Fielder deployed last year.
Some 500 Rhode Island National Guard members are currently deployed in the Middle East, providing security at bases, operating detention centers, flying medical evacuation missions and providing security for reconstruction teams. Sixty members of another Rhode Island National Guard unit that had been deployed to Kuwait returned home earlier this week.
Another 130 from the Air National Guard's 143rd Airlift Wing will depart for a three-month deployment to Afghanistan. The unit will operate six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft in combat air drops and troop and cargo transport missions. A departure ceremony will be held Saturday night.
U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin has attended several ceremonies marking the departure and return of soldiers from Rhode Island since Sept. 11.
"These are so much better than the going aways," he told The Associated Press at Friday's ceremony "They've answered our nation's call. And they've come back safely."
Long after most of the soldiers and their families left the airfield, Kari and John Kling remained in a tight embrace. The couple got engaged just before John left for an earlier deployment to Afghanistan. They got married when he returned. Less than a year later he was off to Kuwait. Kari said she knows he could be deployed again, but hopefully not for a while.
She said she wasn't thinking that far ahead Friday. Asked how she planned to celebrate her husband's return, she shrugged.
"Dinner," she said. "And not letting him go."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)