NORTH SMITHFIELD â€“ They missed the holidays with their families while completing a mission in Afghanistan, but 10 members of the 282nd Combat Communications Squadron wore only smiles on Tuesday as they returned to their R.I. Air National Guard base off Old Oxford Road and were welcomed home by their excited and thankful families and friends.
â€śIt feels great. Iâ€™m still kind of at loss for words and it still is not sinking in yet,â€ť Emmanuel Arias, 34, of Providence said after being reunited with his wife, Yesenia, their just one-year-old son, Tristan, and his other family members waiting at the base.
Having gone off on a deployment of 40 squadron members to run the internet, telephone and network systems at Shindand Air Base in Afghanistan last June, Arias couldnâ€™t be sure his son would remember him or how he might react when they were reunited six months later.
Tech Sgt. Arias said the 10 members of unit arriving Tuesday were the last to come home of the original 40 on deployment and gained a special welcome earlier in the morning when their plane landed at Portsmouth International Airport at the former Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire and were greeted by a group of veterans and Portsmouth residents who put on a special welcome for returning service members each time they arrive there.
â€śTo see all the veterans that come to honor us when we should be honoring them was so amazing,â€ť Arias said. The welcome crew met the returning soldiers as they deplaned at 3 a.m. and treated them to some special mementos and snacks before they headed off to the bus that would take them home. â€śIt was just great to see someone there who had also done what we did. It meant a lot to us,â€ť he said.
Arias said he was also thankful for the support members of the local National Guard community gave his family and friends while he was in the war zone. â€śKnowing they had the support they needed while I was on deployment made it easier for me to do my job because I knew everything was being taken care of back at home,â€ť he said.
Although kept busy running their baseâ€™s computer network and communications services, the 282nd members were constantly reminded of their presence in a tumultuous region of the world as enemy forces occasionally fired rockets at the base and its troops would be forced to take cover.
Bradley Beaudoin, 24, of Manville, making his first deployment to a war zone as a Guard member, said the attacks were unsettling when he first arrived in Afghanistan but as time went on he simply followed his training routines for remaining safe and got about doing his job.
â€śAfter a while it becomes second nature,â€ť he said. â€śWe didnâ€™t have any casualties and everyone came home,â€ť Beaudoin added.
As he arrived at the Squadronâ€™s base on Tuesday, Beaudoin was met by his friends such as Garrett Riel, a former Guard member, and Squadron member Michael Rothemich. His pet beagle, Beau, was also there waiting for him in the car his friends brought for him to drive home with.