Sunday, June 6, 2004

Deborah Gregory was quickly dragged off the runway by her husband, John Gregory, after he got off the plane at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base. He is part of Navy Patrol Squadron 47 -- aviators and aviation support staff who returned after a six-month deployment in the Middle East. Squadron 47's planes flew out of Bahrain to conduct reconnaissance over Iraq, and out of the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to reach Afghanistan. Deborah flew from Rome to surprise him. He was surprised and wanted to make a quick getaway with her.

Navy fliers back
after saving lives in
Iraq and Afghanistan

Daily surveillance missions flown by Navy Patrol Squadron 47 over Iraq and Afghanistan over the past six months definitely saved American troops' lives, a squadron officer said yesterday, as they returned home.

Yesterday, the 344 Navy aviators and their support crews got a hero's welcome from family and friends at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe. The remainder of the 450-member squadron, including Cmdr. Tom McGovern, the commanding officer, will return tomorrow and Wednesday.

The men and women of Navy Patrol Squadron 9, also based in Kaneohe, are replacing Squadron 47 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

The plane carrying the returning sailors arrived at 3:05 p.m., but they didn't deplane to a flurry of American flags, flower leis, hugs and kisses until about 25 minutes later.

"The (P-3 Orion surveillance) aircraft and crew provided tremendous surveillance and intelligence for Marines and Army forces on the ground, saving lives every day," Cmdr. Jim Landers, the unit's executive officer, said of his sailors.

The aviation and aviation support squadron includes 33 pilots and 100 air crew, with the remainder providing ground support.

Jay and Corie Roback hugged after Jay got off the plane at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base.

"It was a good deployment because everything went great, nobody got hurt and everybody came home," said flight engineer Jonathan Pfiel.

"Whether someone is making a sandwich in the galley or turning a wrench on an airplane," every job makes the mission possible, Landers said. "I think America can be proud of the sons and daughters they send forward."

Squadron 47's planes flew out of Bahrain to conduct reconnaissance over Iraq, and out of the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to reach Afghanistan. Landers described the deployment as "work, rest, and back to work."

Without giving much detail yesterday about their mission, several did affirm that they believe they made a difference for ground troops.

"The stuff we did there, if we hadn't been there, people would have died, absolutely," said John Miller, an aviation weapons system operator who flew 25 missions.

Pilot Bill Cox said the squadron was able to pass on information about enemy troop movements, hiding places and suspicious activity.

"We work with the Marines and the Army on the ground and they're always telling us how much they appreciate having an eye in the sky," Cox said.

While united in the war on terrorism, there were as many coming-home stories yesterday as there were sailors.

Ashley Conner, 14, wanted to "do something different" for her dad, William, so she created a monster-size lei out of newspaper to hang around his neck.

Mary Moser, retired Navy herself, surprised her career Navy husband, Andre, with a long, white limousine to take him home to Ewa Beach in style.

"I figure after six-and-a-half months and all the hard work they've been doing, it's the little things that count," Mary Moser said.

"Isn't that neat? It's quite a surprise," said Andre Moser, a maintenance materials control supervisor.

Cesar Pastor-Silva got a big hug from his girlfriend, Idalis Camacho, after he got off the plane yesterday.

It took Deborah Gregory three days of stand-by travel to get back from Rome, Italy, where she and their two daughters had been visiting her parents, to meet her husband John at the base yesterday.

As if just seeing her sooner than he expected wasn't surprise enough, Mrs. Gregory said she planned to whisk him away to a second honeymoon in Tahiti and New Zealand.

"It's time for us," she said simply.

Takako and Gary Bolin, married six years, don't have children, unless you count their pet spaniels, Duke and Jeff, who awaited their master in matching red, white and blue palaka aloha shirts.

Aviation machinist Stephen Hodge held his 6-week-old daughter Nya in his arms for the first time, as wife Lynne looked on.

Of course the sailors who were deployed made sacrifices, but so have those waiting at home. John Miller's children Johnny, 13, and Summer, 11, held back from seeing either the new Harry Potter movie or Shrek II, in order to see it with their dad.

"That's quite a sacrifice," said Miller, beaming at his children and wife, Lori.

Cristina Quintana, 6, had a wish for her father, Julian, who had been on his first deployment, now that he was home.

"I want him to stay," she said.


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