The last of Utah-based military units serving in the Persian Gulf began coming home Wednesday, greeted with hugs, smooches and handshakes at Hill Air Force Base.
About 7 a.m. a commercial charter jet carrying more than 170 maintenance airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing arrived at Hill after three months in the gulf. About 500 spouses, children and colleagues welcomed the airmen back. The remaining 15 pilots and 30 maintenance crewmen of the 388th's 34th Fighter Squadron will return next week, marking an end to the 388th's 19-month tour in the Persian Gulf."She doesn't even know me," lamented Staff Sgt. John Ragona, holding his 5-month-old daughter Lindsey, who was crying and reaching out for her mother.
"She was a month old when I left. I missed her rolling over, I missed a lot. And now she doesn't even know me."
Ragona's 6-year-old son, Jason, remembered his dad, however, giving him a bear hug and kiss.
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Ragona's wife Cinde was also relieved to have her companion back.
"It was the hardest three months of my life," she said of her husband's absence since March 13.
Living in the Saudi Arabian desert was no vacation for Ragona, working in 120-degree heat and stifling humidity. But he said morale was high and the work went smoothly.
The 388th first dispatched two squadrons of F-16s to the gulf as part of the military buildup against Iraq in December 1990, after Iraq had invaded oil-rich Kuwait in No-"She was a month old when I left. I missed her rolling over, I missed a lot. And now she doesn't even know me."
Staff Sgt. John Ragona
vember 1990, sparking worldwide concern over Iraq's possible intentions to control much of the world's oil supply. When the buildup escalated into the Desert Storm war, the squadrons were assigned to take out Iraqi missile launchers and other targets.
Half of the 34th Fighter Squadron returned in December 1991 as part of the United States' military presence in the gulf, enforcing United Nations' sanctions against Iraq. The 34th has been relieved by a squadron from Moody, Ala.
"There were a few incidents but nothing serious," said squadron commander Lt. Col. Jeff Kohler, who was in the gulf from December 1991 to March of this year. "We had to fly to few sorties to let Iraq know we were still there."
He said the squadron was housed in apartment buildings originally built for Bedouins, who apparently didn't care to live there. "The living conditions were good; they were nice quarters."
The returning airmen will get a week of leave. Ragona plans to go camping with the family, then return to the base to make sure the tons of the squadron's gear has returned in one piece.
"Then I am outta here for 30 days," he yelled.