Marine, Navy Aviators Return from Mideast - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

02/25/04

Marine, Navy Aviators Return from Mideast

Pilots kept formation on approach. Pilots kept formation on approach.

For the last seven months, they've been flying above the fray, prowling the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan, but today the pilots stationed aboard the USS Enterprise were cruising into South Carolina. Today it was 36 F/A-18s from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 and Navy Striker Fighter Squadrons 82 and 86.

Even though it's been seven months since they've seen their families, these pilots wanted to make sure they gave a good show, even waiting to taxi in together. For those family members though, it was almost too much. "It's so close you can barely stand it, but we're so proud of them and glad he's back home with us," said military wife Kelly Heidt.

"He's missed a lot. He missed her first birthday, he missed her first words," said Rodd Deal, an aviator's brother of his child. "Her first words were da-da. I want to see him park that jet right over there in one piece and then we'll be okay."

These pilots have seen the skies above battlefields, and while that tour of duty's been tough, they say the last few weeks have been far and away the easiest, knowing what was coming up. "It's hard to be out there, but when you find out you're coming home, that's the light at the end of the tunnel," said LCDR Dan Heidt, Kelly's husband. "It's really great to be back."

Some of the advance ground crew has been back for a couple weeks, and they still say it's hard to pin down exactly what's going through the pilots' heads as they fly in. "It's an unexplainable feeling coming home after seven months of being away from your loved ones," said CPO Joshua Stoica. "Very anxious."

The F/A-18s have spent most of their deployment in the Arabian Sea, giving them the option of missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Close to 500 members of the squadrons' support crews will come home tomorrow night.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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