'It's so good to have you home again'

There were tears of joy as American servicemen enjoyed an emotional reunion with loved ones yesterday following a four-month spell in the Middle East.

There were tears of joy as American servicemen enjoyed an emotional reunion with loved ones yesterday following a four-month spell in the Middle East.

About 50 members of the 48th Civil Engineering Squadron were welcomed back to RAF Lakenheath from deployment in support of the global war on terrorism.

The men and women returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to a crowd of people eagerly waiting the arrival of their husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, and friends. The reunion marked the first wave of around 800 airmen to return from throughout Southwest Asia in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

“There have been some difficult times during the past four months, but I have just tried to be strong,” said Omaira Martinez , whose husband Tony had been deployed for the first time during their six year marriage.

“The hardest parts were during the first couple of weeks, because I just kept hoping he was doing okay.”

Mrs Martinez, who has three children, became a Key Spouse whilst her husband was in Baghdad, acting as a support network for other wives and girlfriends struggling to cope, and to pass on information about the troops.

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“I have tried to keep myself busy, but sometimes in the evenings I would look at the clock and expect Tony to walk in the door, before realising he wasn't going to. But I just kept thinking, whatever I was going through, it was worse for him,” she said,

Although not on the front line, the Civil Engineering Squadron has a vital role to play, and is needed for anything from extinguishing fires, rebuilding roads and buildings, to fixing heating and ventilation systems.

Master sergeant Jerry Oliver, who also returned from Baghdad yesterday, spoke of his joy at being reunited with his wife, Yolanda, and two children, despite being no stranger to deployment.

“I have been with the airforce for 22 years, so I am used to being away from home. The hardest part about serving in Iraq is the long hours - sometimes between 12 and 14 hours a day - and I am very glad to be home,” he said.

The troops know they will now have a gap of around 18 months before being deployed again, thanks to a rotation system.

Lieutenant colonel Brian Murphy, commander of the 48th Civil Engineering Squadron, said the men would now be assessed to make sure they were okay, before being given two weeks of “down time”.