144th Area Support Medical Company Returns from Iraq on Veterans Day

 

Written by Shad West

Published November 14, 2006

 

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The Air Base fire department pays tribute to the arriving Soldiers of the 144th as the aircraft approaches the hangar.

Photo by Spc. Samantha Xanthos

The Air Base fire department pays tribute to the arriving

Soldiers of the 144th as the aircraft approaches the hangar.

SALT LAKE CITY While communities across the state honored Veterans Day with celebrations, concerts and parades Nov. 11, Soldiers of the Springville-based 144th Area Support Medical Company arrived at the Salt Lake Air Base where Governor Jon Huntsman and hundreds of family and friends eagerly awaited with American flags, yellow roses and welcome-home signs.

It was the ideal Veterans Day celebration for the Utah County Guard members and their families and a stark contrast to their Veterans Day last year. Just a year ago, they landed in Kuwait en route to Tallil, Iraq. There they were greeted by vast desert sands and the knowledge that those sands would be their home for the next year.

The 80 medical technicians, doctors and support personnel were comforted in knowing that their collective 350 years of training would get them through their tour of duty in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

A young family member watches and waits with the crowd for  the aircraft door to open so he can welcome his 144th Soldier home.

Photo by Spc. Samantha Xanthos

A young family member watches and waits with the crowd for

 the aircraft door to open so he can welcome his 144th Soldier home.

Many family members waited hours in a nearby aircraft hangar that Saturday morning for the contract airliner to arrive. When the Miami Air jet landed it was escorted to the tarmac by security and support vehicles with lights and sirens blaring, passing through streams of water launched by the Air Base fire department in a show of respect.        

Dark, overcast and rainy skies were outshined by the cheers, warm smiles and anxious looks of well-wishers waiting to embrace their loved ones—their Veterans.

For 10-year-old Kellie Leavitt, her father, Sgt. Jeffrey Leavitt, like the rest of the 144th, was deployed for the past 15 months and it seemed an eternity.

“I’m very excited and I’m very happy to have my dad home,” Leavitt said. “It was too long. It felt pretty long, but it wasn’t as long as it could have been.”

Family members of 144th Soldiers welcome the aircraft as it taxis toward the hangar at the Salt Lake Air Base Nov. 11.

Photo by Spc. Samantha Xanthos

Family members of 144th Soldiers welcome the aircraft as

it taxis toward the hangar at the Salt Lake Air Base Nov. 11.

Leavitt, like many children of military members serving overseas, is maybe a little too mature for her age. She understands the importance of family and community support for military families while their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers are deployed.

“We spent a lot of time with our grandparents and other family,” she said. ”Our church helped us with our yard, and others would make us cookies and other things. It was really nice.”

Tiffany Stefl was extremely proud of her husband, Capt. David Stefl, and his mission in Iraq.

“We were proud to have him there,” Stefl said. “But there is nothing like having him home and being a family again.”

Stefl who has traveled abroad herself said their family’s sacrifice was well worth the 15-month investment.

The celebration begins at the top of the aircraft stairs for one 144th Soldier who is happy to be home.

Photo by Spc. Samantha Xanthos

The celebration begins at the top of the aircraft stairs

for one 144th Soldier who is happy to be home.

“I’ve seen what it's like to be in a third-world country without a government,” Stefl said. “I’m very proud to have him go and help better their standards of living. It’s a good sacrifice, but it really isn’t a sacrifice to have him help other people better their lives.”

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Talcott said the deployment and subsequent homecoming helped him see things in a completely different way.

“It was awesome to see everyone there,” Talcott said. “As a Soldier it is one of the most awesome experiences to have. That feeling is one of the reasons we do what we do. You can feel that support.”

Seeing his children again, Talcott said he felt a physical and emotional change.

“I was happy, really happy to see my kids again,” Talcott said. “When I saw them I knew the stress was gone. The petty nuances of life melt away. It gives you a new perspective on life.”

This was the second deployment to Iraq for Sgt. Donald Ferguson. Just a couple of years ago he deployed with the 1457th in a combat role. He said this deployment was better for both him and his family.

“The first night in Iraq I had a tent,” Ferguson said. “Everything was already set up for us. The living conditions were a lot better for us. We even had the Internet in our rooms. I think my family was comforted with the knowledge that this mission wasn’t [as much of] a combat role. They worried a lot less than last time.”

For Ferguson the mission of the 144th tested his abilities in a new and rewarding way.

“As far as the mission, it was a whole different ballgame,” Ferguson said. "This time it was a lot more thinking work. It really stretched me and my abilities.”

A young 144th Soldiers is greeted by his wife and child at the Salt Lake Air Base Nov. 11.

Photo by Spc. Samantha Xanthos

A young 144th Soldiers is greeted by his wife

and child  Nov. 11 at the Salt Lake Air Base.

For Ferguson, coming home to his family a second time was just as special as the first one.

“It was great. There really is no way to describe that feeling,” Ferguson said. “To wake up at home is the best feeling in the world.”

The 144th spent most of their time providing on-site emergency care. They operated a medical clinic and provided ambulance services to Coalition forces and Iraqi nationals in southern Iraq.

Guard members will take about two weeks off to adjust to life on the home front before returning to work. And every one agrees that that is a great idea.

“We haven’t thought past the next two weeks,” Tiffany Stefl said.