GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH Chad and Aubrey Christensen kiss after Chad's return to Robins Air Force Base from deployment with the Air Force 5th COmbat Communications Group Monday night. The deployment was the first for the couple in their two year marriage. "It was challenging, but it was good," Chad said. "It was emotional," Aubrey said,"I had my up and down days."
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- About two dozen Robins troops who were among the last to leave Iraq were welcomed home Monday with salutes from their commanders, applause from their fellow airmen and tears and hugs from their family members.
The 5th Combat Communications Group members arrived on a bus that had picked them up at the Atlanta airport and were dropped off at their Robins Air Force Base headquarters among the cheering welcome party and a throng of media.
Tech Sgt. Brian McDonald received a particularly emotional welcome from his children, Krista, 9, and Christian, 10, who weren’t told he was coming home. When he got off the bus, they ran to him and wept in his arms for several minutes.
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“I haven’t seen him in a long time, and I really missed him,” Krista said.
McDonald’s unit was charged with shutting down operations at Sather Air Base in Baghdad. He said it was an honor to be among the last troops out of Iraq.
“We did a lot over the last nine years, so having the opportunity to shut it down and bring everyone home safe and sound was a wonderful feeling,” he said.
The Robins troops left Sather on Dec. 14 and were in Germany until they finally got a ride home Monday.
Tech Sgt. Shawn Gambill was welcomed back by his wife, Misty, and their two sons, Austin, 11, and Cole, 13.
“It’s awesome to see him again,” Austin said. “It just feels good to have him back.”
A 15-year Air Force veteran, Gambill has been on many deployments, but he said this one was special.
“It just feels good knowing we can bring everybody back home,” he said.
Gambill is originally from Macon, and his parents and sister live there. For a time they weren’t sure he would be home for Christmas.
“We were planning for the worst,” he said.
The 5th Combat Communications Group is one of the most heavily deployed units at Robins and has sent hundreds of airmen to Iraq and Afghanistan. The unit specializes in setting up an array of communications in remote areas and was responsible for setting up Sather when the war started in 2003.
Some of the returning troops had been in Iraq for three months, and others were there for two months.
Col. Kevin Krause, the group commander, said the unit was honored to have some of the last troops out of Iraq.
“It’s a proud moment when you actually get to conclude the mission you started on,” he said.
Maj. Tracy Parrish, who commanded the troops in Iraq, said people applauded as they walked through the airports on their way home.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.