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Home stretched, finally home

Lt. Col. Paul Smith’s children welcome him home with American flags and group hugs June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Lt. Col. Paul Smith’s children welcome him home with American flags and group hugs June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. Smith’s children ran to him as soon as he deplaned from his deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams)

Two couples embrace in hugs June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Two couples embrace in hugs June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. More than 50 Reservists from the 940th Air Refueling Wing returned home from deployment in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams)

An Airman assigned to the 940th Maintenance Group deplanes and steps foot on to the ground after returning from deployment June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California.

An Airman assigned to the 940th Maintenance Group deplanes and steps foot on to the ground after returning from deployment June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. More than 50 Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 940th Air Refueling Wing were away in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams)

An Airman from the 940th Air Refueling Wing hugs his loved one, while two men continue to wait for their family member to arrive home from deployment June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California.

An Airman from the 940th Air Refueling Wing hugs his loved one, while two men continue to wait for their family member to arrive home from deployment June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. Each deployed member was given a medical screening before being released to deplane and reconnect with their family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams)

Tech. Sgt. David Diegel kneels with his wife, Mia Diegel, and hugs his dog, Cooper, June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Tech. Sgt. David Diegel kneels with his wife, Mia Diegel, and hugs his dog, Cooper, June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. Diegel, a nondestructive inspection technician with the 940th Maintenance Squadron, had just returned from a seven month deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams)

A young girl looks toward a KC-135 Stratotanker as she waits for her father June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California.

A young girl looks toward a KC-135 Stratotanker as she waits for her father June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. She hadn’t seen her father since November 2019, when he went away for a deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams)

Master Sgt. Michael Carrillo, a dedicated crew chief with the 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, gives hugs and kisses to his wife and son June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Master Sgt. Michael Carrillo, a dedicated crew chief with the 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, gives hugs and kisses to his wife and son June 14, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. The master sergeant had been away on deployment and landed back home moments earlier. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tara R. Abrahams)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, California --

After an additional three months in their deployed location, more than 50 Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 940th Air Refueling Wing finally arrived home. Their boots stepped on to U.S. ground June 14 at their home station, Beale Air Force Base, California.

The reservists had been away, in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, since November 2019 and were only supposed to be gone until March. But when the novel Coronavirus started spreading in early 2020, all travel plans were halted and the deployment’s end date was suddenly unknown.

“For the past three months, there was no set return date,” Staff Sgt. Francisco Jimenez said calmly.

The 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft hydraulics technician explained how every time talk about coming home came up, he would try not to get his hopes up because there was no telling what would happen next. Until he was on the plane flying home, he kept in mind the plans may change again.

“Now that our feet are on the ground, it feels good,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back. There’s no other way to put it.”

But the Airmen weren’t the only ones ready for their homecoming. Parents, spouses, children, co-workers and even a dog came out to greet the men and women upon arrival.

After landing, each Airman was given a medical screening before being released to deplane and reconnect with their loved ones. Their families waited in anticipation outside.

“There he is,” a young boy said to his mother enthusiastically as he spotted his dad stepping off the plane.

Children ran toward their parents, whom they hadn’t hugged in seven months. Spouses were reunited. The dog jumped on his best friend.

The deployed members had missed several holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and, most of all, just spending time with their families while they were away.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Sara Gwaltney, wife of a deployed member and Key Spouse.

Gwaltney said the Key Spouses bonded and helped each other through their partner’s deployment. From simply being there for one another to helping prepare for a birth to the COVID-19 pandemic, they made it through.

And now, for these Airmen and their families, it’s their turn to relax.

On behalf of the 940th Air Refueling Wing, welcome home.