Tinker Airmen return home from SW Asia

Col. Jay Bickley, 552nd Air Control Wing commander, second from left, was among several senior leaders who turned out Oct. 9 to greet Airmen from his wing returning from a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia. The Airmen were comprised mostly from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron. (Air Force photo by Darren D. Heusel)

Col. Jay Bickley, 552nd Air Control Wing commander, second from left, was among several senior leaders who turned out Oct. 9 to greet Airmen from his wing returning from a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia. The Airmen were comprised mostly from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron. (Air Force photo by Darren D. Heusel)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Approximately 135 Airmen from Tinker who returned Oct. 9 from a six-month absence were met by about an equal number of family members, friends and military colleagues.

The Airmen were greeted with hand-lettered signs, balloons, warm embraces, handshakes, whoops and shouts by a crowd who gathered in the parking lot just east of Bldg. 255.

The Airmen, primarily from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, returned from a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia.

Donald and Sandra Williams flew to Oklahoma City from Gaithersburg, Md., to greet their son, Capt. Donald Williams Jr. of the 965th AACS, upon his return from his second deployment. The elder Williams retired from the U.S. Navy. Donald Sr. hoisted above his head a sign that declared, "Welcome Home, Son. We missed and love you very much."

Jennifer Shadduck of Shawnee held a "Welcome Home, Daddy" sign for her daughter, Riley, 3. They eagerly anticipated the return of Tech. Sgt. Terry L. Shadduck Jr., 552nd Maintenance Operations Squadron, from his third six-month deployment.

Samantha Sumner patiently awaited the arrival of her husband, Tech. Sgt. Wyatt Sumner of the 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who was returning from his sixth deployment. "He's a good man," said Mrs. Sumner, a logistics management specialist with the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing. The Sumners, who live in Moore, have been at Tinker for a year, she said; previously her husband was stationed at Robins AFB, Ga.

First Lt. Stephen Ramey of the 965th AACS was surrounded not by family but by several fellow Airmen, who shook his hand or gave him a hug plus a hearty "welcome home."

Perhaps the biggest surprise awaited Airman 1st Class Clint Grunalt, who performs hydraulic maintenance on the E-3 "Sentry" Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft for the 552nd AMXS.

Among the throng waiting for Airman Grunalt were his wife, Sarah; his parents, John and Dawn Grunalt, who live in Sterling Heights, outside Detroit, Mich.; his sister, Ashlynn; his maternal grandmother, Mary Jo Rogers of Amarillo, Texas; his wife's parents, Mike and Jennifer King of Warr Acres; his sister-in-law, Emily King, and two brothers-in-law, Jesse and Aaron King.

Airman Grunalt's parents had told him they couldn't make the homecoming "because of my little sister's soccer game, or something like that," so he was stunned to see them here. "I had no idea, not a clue," he said. Mr. and Mrs. Grunalt said they drove 27 hours to welcome their son home.

Airman Grunalt, 21, has been in the Air Force for about a year and a half, and this was his first deployment. He described it simply as, "Long days, long weeks. Long in general."

"Long 'phone calls," his wife quickly interjected.

A Homecoming celebration is "a very special time to re-engage with your family and get back together again," said Col. Jay Bickley, 552nd Air Control Wing commander who has deployed "a number of times" during his 23-year military career. "Every time they leave their families and every time they come home, it's an emotional event for their families. It's the very least we can do to make it special for them."