JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 40 airmen and six F-15 fighter jets returned home to Jacksonville on Friday afternoon from deployment.
The members of the Florida National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing, who had been in Southwest Asia in support of Operation Spartan Shield, were welcomed back by anxious family members and friends --some of whom were holding signs, including one that read, "We love you, Daddy."
"So happy to be home. It's awesome. It's beautiful. It's awesome coming back to Florida, coming back to Jacksonville and feeling welcomed by the city," said one airman, who returned from his third deployment and was greeted by his wife and two young daughters. "We got to fly over the beaches on the way in and just couldn't ask for a more beautiful day to come back home."
The reunions were four months in the making.
"We had an M&M jar for each of (the children) and they got to have one M&M for every day Daddy was gone," the airmen's wife said. "Separation is hard, but it's also a great support community and we're proud to be a part of it.
The airmen shared the spotlight with their spouses, who are also sacrificing and holding down the homefront the best way they know how.
"You can't say enough how awesome it is for military spouses, just the work that they do," the one airman said. "They don't get the recognition. I mean, the jets get all the attention."
With the memories of a job well done in the back of their mind, it’s now time for family.
"It's indescribable. It's great to go over there and do the mission," the airman told News4Jax. "It's important to our efforts over there and be part of the team."
Operation Spartan Shield is a Department of Defense operation that began in 2012 and is ongoing. While the official mission is listed in Southwest Asia, officials previously told News4Jax that they couldn't give specifics, but they said most people would identify the region as the Middle East near the Dubai area.
The 125th Fighter Wing, which has been part of the Northeast Florida community since 1947, currently has more than 1,600 airmen assigned to 23 units operating across five separate geographic locations.