After more than a year of flying dangerous missions over Iraq, every member of a Gulfport Army National Guard unit is back home in South Mississippi. The last two of 30 members of the 185th AVCRAD I-company arrived Friday morning.
In 13 months, the unit never lost a man or a plane, and gained some valuable experience for future missions.
"I told her, 'Daddy is coming home' yesterday and she jumped up and down and said, 'There's daddy's plane,'" April Johnson said.
April's husband is Commander Mark Johnson. His arrival marks the end of I-Company 185th AVCRAD's year long mission, to keep the Army's Fighting Helicopters flying high over the Iraqi War Zone.
"Time was well spent. We flew about 1.5 millions pounds of cargo while we were in Iraq, 2700 combat flight hours, and have hauled about 3000 passengers. So we stayed pretty busy over there," Johnson said.
Family and friends gave Johnson and CW2 Brett Krass a hero's welcome at the Gulfport Biloxi Regional Airport.
"Feels great. It's good to be home. Good to be here with family," Krass said.
Every member of I-Company no doubt feels good about their mission, delivering vital aviation parts to repair helicopters all over Iraq. The planes they flew, the C-23s, had never been used in combat before. This Gulfport unit wrote the book for future wartime missions.
"I was really concerned for them because it's low and slow and it's really an easy target. But they did the tactics they needed to do to be safe, and not one of them got shot down. They all came home," Col. Gervis Parkerson of the 1108th Army National Guard said.
And though the possibility exist for future call ups, for now, their mission is returning to a normal life.
"I'll probably stay at home most of the time and spend time with the wife and child here," Krass said.
Which promises to an equally busy, though safer, assignment.
"A mile long list, yes, but I'll give him a day break," Brett's wife Patsy said.
All of the pilots in I-Company earned combat air metals. Commander Johnson received the Bronze Star during the mission in Iraq.