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Troops greeted with hugs, kisses from loved ones

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Tiffany Mello greets husband Aaron, a helicopter pilot with the Stockton-based Company B, 1-126th Aviation unit, with a kiss. The helicopter unit returned on Tuesday from a year-long deployment in ...


POSTED July 24, 2013 2:37 a.m.

STOCKTON – Captain Ben Bowman was all smiles as loved ones welcomed him home with hugs and kisses.

But the commander of the Army National Guard helicopter unit out of Stockton – Company B, 1-126th Aviation GSAB – was singularly happy that everyone in his unit came home in one piece from their year’s deployment in Afghanistan.

“He’s very proud of the fact that everybody (in his unit) came home safe,” said Dan Bowman, the commander’s smiling father, one of the scores of excited loved ones at the Stockton Metro Airport Tuesday to welcome the 180 returning American soldiers from Afghanistan.

“We’re just happy to have him back. We are just excited,” the captain’s sister, Bonnie Niessen, said as she took pictures of her brother, his fiancée Lisa Beyer, and several other members of their extended family next to the Southwest airplane that brought the soldiers home.

Captain Bowman said this was his second deployment overseas but does not expect to be deployed again anytime soon. He has been in the Army National Guard for nine years. He works at the Stockton Army Aviation Support Family at Stimson Road off Airport Way near the Stockton Metro Airport as an instructor pilot and instrument examiner. He and his fiancée are getting married in September.

The Bowman family reunion was one of many that took place at the Stockton airport.

Specialist and crew chief Kyle Reeves was greeted not just by his 3-year-old son Alexander but four generations of his family. His perky and sprite great-grandmother, 94-year-old Mary Medeiros, was there proudly waving a welcome poster sign, along with his grandmother Lu Stone, brother Tanner, aunt Nikky Stone, cousin Alizia and other extended-family members.

“Everyone but the fiancée” who is in Montana was present at the reunion, a family member happily noted. The engaged couple plans to marry in “a couple of years.”

This was Reeves’ first deployment overseas. One of his immediate plans, he said, was to go back to school and complete his studies in criminal justice. He was previously a student at California State University, Stanislaus but plans to continue his studies online. Before that, though, he would like to “go to the store and buy a nice pair of shoes and civilian clothes,” he said with a big grin.

‘I’ve been wearing combat boots for the last year.”

For CW2 helicopter pilot Daniel Jones, a Stockton firefighter who has been with the National Guard for 24 years, one of the things he would like to do during his 60 days of leave is to go on a “road trip and spend time together” with his wife, Army Captain Cynthia Jones.

“It’s very good to be back,” beamed the proud father and soldier as he hugged his daughter Naomi, age 2 years and 8 months, while his wife – dressed in camouflage uniform – held their 4-month-old daughter Mary.

Also hugging his 10-month-old baby girl Abby was helicopter pilot Nick Parsons who was likewise surrounded by excited family members that included his wife and his mom, Ashley. This was not the first time father and daughter got to see each other. “I came back for a few days,” Parsons said, for the birth of his daughter 10 months ago.

CW4 helicopter pilot Lucas Eggers of Escalon was a happy and proud husband and father as he greeted wife Jenny and their daughter Elizabeth. The two-year-old enjoyed the view of happily reunited families perched on her father’s shoulders as she proudly waved a miniature American flag. Wife Jenny said this was her husband’s fifth deployment in his 13 years in the service. In addition to being deployed in Afghanistan, pilot Eggers has also served in Iraq.

Greeting CW2 Army pilot Aaron Mello was a poster that reminded him how much he was missed by his wife Tiffany. One side of the white poster board with red and blue stars that she made said it all: “338 days; 11 months, 4 days; 486,720 hours; 29, 203, 200 seconds; Worth the wait.”

The Stockton-based Army National Guard Bravo Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment flew support missions for “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan.

The regiment, the largest National Guard CH-47 Chinook unit in the contiguous United States, is part of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade. It is one of the oldest Chinook helicopter units in the Army, having been formed in Stockton in the 1940s as the 49th Aviation Company.

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