Cannon welcomes returning troops

By Gabriel Monte: Freedom New Mexico

More than a dozen vehicles with handwritten slogans on the windows lined Hangar 126 on Saturday welcomed home the last active fighter squadron of Cannon Air force Base.

Inside the hangar, hundreds of families and friends of deployed airmen waited for their loved ones in the 522nd fighter squadron to arrive on a chartered plane from Guam.

Winter Brown ran to her father, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Brown, and jumped into his arms as soon as the 7-year-old saw him. She held on to him as her mother, Christina, and sister, Kelsey, 15, chased her. The family was together for the first time in four months.

“We’ve been married a long time; I’m used to it,” Christina said. “But it was hard for (Winter) because this is the first time for her being away (from her father) so long.”

Brown and about 700 people in the 522nd fighter squadron had been deployed four months in Guam as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to Staff Sgt. Richard Williams of the Cannon Air Base Public Affairs desk.

The main body of the squadron arrived Saturday and the remaining personnel will come home shortly, he said.

Krystal Ramos got her daughter, Angelina, to make a banner for her father, Staff Sgt. Joseph Ramos, the night before. She said it was the only way she got the 2-year-old tired enough to sleep.

“She was up until 2 in the morning because she was excited that he was going to come home today,” said Krystal, who also brought her 10-month old daughter, Jazlynn, to greet her father.

The 522nd, known as the “Fireballs,” is the last Air Combat Command unit still active in Cannon. The Base changed Monday from the 27th Fighter Wing to the 27th Special Operations Wing as part of a push for more special operations bases in the war on terror.

The “Fireballs” squadron will become inactive in January, Williams said.

The squadrons’ job during its remainder of time at Cannon would be to prepare for inactivation. Some of the airmen will transfer to other bases, according to 27th Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Timothy Leahy.

“A lot of these airmen that will step off the plane, will step off the plane wearing ACC patches, and they’ll transition to AFSOC patches and they’ll stay right here in Cannon and continue to do their jobs,” said Leahy who greeted the airmen as they stepped onto the tarmac.

“Some of them that are specifically associated with the F-16s will start their process of PCS-ing off base and the final squadron here will start to shut down here in the coming months and then we’ll start to move the airplanes off the base,” he said.

As the airmen filed into the hanger, they waited in line to fill out finance vouchers to reimburse their travel expenses.

But right now, spending as much time as he can with his family is the only thing on Brown’s mind.

“I’m just glad to be home,” he said.