Welcome Home Yankee Watch!
By Capt. Jefferson S. Heiland, 103rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published December 01, 2012
BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE - East Granby, Conn. -- Approximately 80 Airmen from the Connecticut Air National Guard's 103rd Air Control Squadron returned home to Bradley Air National Guard Base Nov. 20, 2012, following a six-month deployment overseas.
As the large mass of family and friends hugged the yellow ropes holding them from spilling onto the flightline, a large, chartered commercial jet turned its nose toward the main hangar on base. Aboard the plane were the Connecticut Airmen as well as augmentees from other states, back after a long flight from halfway around the world.
Connecticut Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman was there along with several senior military leaders to shake the hands of the returning troops as they debarked the airliner and came down the long stairwell.
Friends and family cheered, waving American flags and holding signs as the members from 'Yankee Watch' walked across the cold tarmac and made their way to their loved ones.
Among those returning from overseas were Senior Airmen Dylan and Jesse Gillis, brothers who were able to share their first-ever deployment.
"It was great that we were able to be together," Jesse said. "We were together for the first three months until I got moved to a different location."
The brothers' mom was there for the homecoming celebration and tried her best to hold back tears as she described how it felt to have them both away.
"I was glad they were together, and when they were separated I knew they had to. But they kept in touch all the time, and they were able to let me know that they were safe--but it was tough," Brenda Gillis said.
Their dad, Chris Gillis, was also there for the special reunion. "We couldn't ask for anything more," he said, when asked how it felt to have the boys home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. "We love it," Brenda said.
The 103rd Air Control Squadron left Connecticut in May for Southwest Asia and was attached to the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, responsible for the control of coalition airspace in the region.
"We were also responsible for the proper identification of all aircraft, military and civilian, flying into and out of the region," said Lt. Col. William Neri, commander, 103rd Air Control Squadron.
"It's very satisfying knowing that we all made it back safe and sound, and we could not have done it without the help and support from the people here in Connecticut. Deploying is stressful, for the Airmen and for their families. A responsibility I took very seriously while deployed was making sure that our folks were keeping in touch with their families, were being taken care of at their deployed location and by the support agencies at Bradley. All the support we received from Mil Pay, Personnel, XP, Supply, Family Support, the wing and state leadership, just outstanding. It was a team effort," said Neri.
The 103rd ACS has deployed five times since Sept. 11, 2001, in support of the Global War on Terrorism. This deployment was their sixth overall and fourth partial mobilization since 9/11. The unit has participated in every major air campaign of the last decade deploying members and equipment to Turkey, the Bahamas, Columbia, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Hungary in support of military actions: Operation Display Determination, Operation Support Justice, Operation Deny Flight, Operation Joint Endeavor, Operation Constant Vigil and Operation Southern Watch.