Staff Sgt. David Merlo, a Reservist with the 445th Civil Engineering Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, his wife Anna, and children Mathew and Maggie, were among more than 220 families who enjoyed the Heroes Welcoming Heroes event March 19 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The event honored recently deployed military members and their families for their service and sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Al Bright)
Dayton Dragons mascot Heater visits Alex O’Donnell at the Heroes Welcoming Heroes event March 19 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. More than 220 Airmen and their families enjoyed the event, which honored recently deployed military members and their families. Alex is the son of Robert and Maj. Tamara O’Donnell of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Al Bright)
A cadre of volunteers prepare to serve dinner at the 11th Heroes Welcoming Heroes event March 19, 2009 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. More than 220 Airmen and their families enjoyed the event, which honored recently deployed military members from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Al Bright)
Airmen and their families at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base enjoyed clowns, a puppet show, great food and door prizes at the 11th Heroes Welcoming Heroes event March 19, 2009 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Heroes Welcoming Heroes is made possible by base helping agencies, community supporters and sponsors from throughout the Dayton region. (U.S. Air Force photo/Al Bright)
by Derek Kaufman
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
3/26/2009 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- More than 220 Airmen plus their families were welcomed home from recent deployments in grand style during the 11th Heroes Welcoming Heroes event March 19 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The family oriented event provided food, fun and games, as well as information to help Airmen returning from the stresses of overseas deployment to smoothly adjust to everyday life at home with their families and friends, said Jennifer Spurgin, chief of Family Member Programs with the 88th Services Division here.
With strong support from base helping agencies ranging from the Airman and Family Readiness Center to the base chapel staff, as well as outstanding community sponsorship, more than 4,000 Airmen, family members and supporters families have participated in the quarterly welcome home since the first was held in October 2005, Spurgin said.
This time around attendees enjoyed everything from gourmet entrees to Pizza, while the Gem City Bands and Orchestra provided background ambiance, in the museum's Modern Flight Gallery.
"The heroes are the spouses and families that stayed behind to keep the home fires burning, taking care of the families and kids. The others are the heroes that put their lives on the line for us every day and in every way, fighting the fight," Spurgin said.
The heroes at this particular event came from across the base.
Sitting at a table of 88th Security Forces Squadron "Defenders" was Airman First Class Daniel "Pops" Clement of Philadelphia, who returned from his first deployment at Camp Bucca, Iraq.
"This was just a great event," he said.
Capt. James Herrin, an intensive care nurse at Wright-Patterson Medical Center, recently spent seven months deployed, based primarily at Ramstein Air Base and the neighboring Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. As a Critical Care Air Transport Team member, he shuttled seriously wounded troops aboard Air Force C-17s configured as flying intensive care units.
First Lt. Ernesto Curiel, spent about the same amount of time split between Iraq and Afghanistan as a National Air and Space Intelligence Center liaison officer. The bulk of his time was spent explaining Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities to joint warfighters.
Staff Sgt. David Merlo returned March 13 from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, where he joined civil engineers from the 445th Airlift Wing in a vast number of projects to improve local infrastructure and build relationships with the Afghan people.
Several base Airmen left the Heroes Welcoming Heroes event with door prizes donated by community sponsors, in addition to the appreciation of base and community leaders. Gifts ranged from restaurant gift certificates, to IPODs, to a 32-inch flat screen TV.
To her surprise and delight, Capt. Renae Denelsbeck left carrying a new Nintendo Wii. Denelsbeck, a nurse practitioner from the 88th Medical Group, spent six months in Afghanistan as a primary care provider. She returned home in January to her husband David and their children and horses near Eaton, Ohio.
Staff Sgt. Tyrone Jackson spent six months in Southwest Asia as a fire team leader from the 88th Security Forces Squadron. While he was away, his wife, Amanda kept him informed on the progress of her pregnancy via e-mail. He returned in December, just four days before she delivered their first baby, a boy they named Phoenix Xavier.
Not all of the returning "heroes" supported warfighters in the desert. Senior Airman Antwon Stephens, also with the 88th Security Forces Squadron, spent six months deployed helping to keep the peace in Pristina, Kosovo.
The next Heroes Welcoming Heroes event is planned for July.