Family, friends greet returning
members of the 186th ARW
WARM WELCOME Staff Sgt. Patrick Hall greets his 3-year-old son, Caleb, at Key Field on Monday. Hall and 38 other members of the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Mississippi Air National Guard returned to Meridian after spending 21⁄2 months overseas supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by Anna Wright/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
June 3, 2003
Master Sgt. Charles Wesley Smith was the first member of the 186th Air Refueling Wing who greeted friends and family waiting for him on the runway at Key Field on Monday.
Sonny LeJeune welcomed his friend home while waiving a big American flag and wearing a red-white-and-blue bow around his neck. He said he was so excited about the homecoming he couldn't sleep the night before.
Others in the crowd held flags, balloons, and "welcome home" signs made out of poster board while patriotic music, interspersed with snippets of speeches by President Bush were played over loudspeakers.
Chuck's parents, Jimmie and Wesley Smith, were also on hand to welcome their son home from overseas.
Having served as a full-time member of the guard for about 20 years, Smith, 42, has been a part of many operations, including the first Gulf War. His wife, Monika, said she is proud to be an Air National Guard wife for 18 of those years.
A fourth-grade teacher at Parkview Elementary School, she said she has seen more community support during Operation Iraqi Freedom than she did during other operations.
She said seeing so many yellow ribbons around town made her realize much of the whole community is thinking of the men and women in service.
After seeing Chuck go from his plane to a bus, and then go from the bus into a building in the distance to be cleared through customs before she could be reunited with him, Monika said: "This is the hardest part. Waiting."
Smith was one of 39 people in the 186th who returned Monday. Another group of about 40 people from the 186th was deployed last week to relieve them in the same location, which remains classified, according to Maj. Gen. James Lipscomb, commander of the Mississippi National Guard.
Lipscomb said a total of about 3,000 members of the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard is deployed oversees. About 2,000 of those troops, Lipscomb said, are stationed in Iraq.
Also there to greet the returning members of the unit was its Wing Commander, Col. Joe Spraggins.