JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
More than 200 members of the Air National Guard returned home Friday from a deployment to Afghanistan.
"This homecoming is all the more special as it is so close to the holidays," said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson, 113th Wing commander. "It is going to make the families and the people deployed a little more cognizant of this holiday and the true meaning of the holidays."
The Guard members returned home after a 60-day Air Expeditionary Force deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of the 200 deployers, more than 170 were from the District of Columbia Air National Guard's 113th Wing. Augmenting the 113th Wing were other Air National Guard members from Iowa, New Jersey, Alabama, and Texas.
"It is coincidental timing that our folks are coming back from Afghanistan the same time the U.S. military is withdrawing from Iraq," said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson, "But it is important to know that combat is still going on in Afghanistan and that there are Americans still in harm's way. We are very happy to have our folks home but they are being replaced by other Air National Guard unit, serving over the holidays, so war still continues."
For 60 days, the guard members conducted air combat and maintenance operations at Bagram Air Base as part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. They were part of the first Air National Guard, F-16 Fighting Falcon Aircraft aviation package to deploy to Afghanistan.
"I think the most important part of out mission was to provide support to the soldiers on the ground," said Senior Master Sergeant David Malone, " But I am looking forward to hugging the kids and to get reacquainted with family life and to enjoy the holidays."
After landing at Joint Base Andrews, the members were immediately taken to a reception facility. There, medical, personnel, finance, family readiness, chaplain and psychological health specialists from both the 113th and 11th Wing assisted the returning members with in processing procedures.
"This is amazing," said Lt. Col. Paula Penson, 113th Medical Group commander. "This is what we do, we train to deploy and these folks have gotten up, suited and shown up. This never gets old and it's important to say welcome home."
Following their in processing, the deployers walked to a nearby hangar where they were met with cheers, applause and hugs from family and friends. Other deployers were directed to vehicles that took them to the local airports.
"We had a lot of good people to work with over there, active duty side and guard side, some of the active duty guys were fresh out of tech school for about six months so working with them was a great experience for me being able to teach them and to learn from them as well," said Tech Sgt. John Mattingly, from the 113th Munitions shop, "It's good to be back, good to be home for the holidays."
This deployment was the fourth of its kind for the 113th Wing. The first three were to Joint Base Balad, Iraq in 2003, 2006, and 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since Sept. 11, 2001 hundreds of D.C. Air Guard members have deployed worldwide in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Additionally, the 113th Air Control Alert Detachment has responded to more than 3000 potential threats to the skies over the National Capital Region.
"These are the days you swell with pride for your unit," said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson, "For all that has been done by those deployed and from the support of the families and the employers who have done without these folks for the past few months."