Flagler-based National Guard unit 1-265th returns to heroes welcome.
They may have been strangers, but the several hundred people who gathered at the Sheltair Aviation runway in Daytona Beach on Thursday, March 10, had a lifetime bond. They all had loved ones returning from a year deployment in Afghanistan.
Eyes turned toward every plane approaching and there were groans of disappointment when it wasn't one of the planes they had come to greet. But finally, the first plane appeared on the horizon and touched down, coasting through a water cannon salute provided by two fire engines. The second plane, arriving about 20 minutes later,was redirected to a runway behind the crowd and actually managed to “sneak up” on the group scanning the skies at the other end of the runway.
Families had driven from throughout Florida, including Tampa, Cocoa Beach, and Orlando to welcome the soldiers and take them where they really wanted to be – home.
There were also some local and very familiar faces like the Ormond Strong group who has walked the Ormond Beach Bridge every day since their men and women were deployed one year ago.
The unit returning from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan was the National Guard Unit based out of the Flagler County Airport.
Debbie Kruck-Forrester, who lives in Palm Coast and works in Ormond Beach, stayed in perpetual motion making sure everything was perfect, until her husband, Sgt. 1st class Tim Forrester, descended the stairs of the second plane. Then she sprinted across the tarmac and into his arms in an embrace that Hollywood would be hard pressed to improve upon.
The two didn't speak. Their passionate kiss and embrace said it all.
Janie Rocke welcomed her son home from his service in Iraq many years ago; but she also had a bond with these soldiers – she had written to them.
“When my son was over there I wrote to him every day,” Rocke said. “Some soldiers weren't getting mail and I was determined my son wasn't going to be one of those.”
She began making contacts online and writing to other soldiers so they would have mail, something she continues today.
“When Debbie (Kruck-Forrester) started the first letter writing thing at the library I told her, 'you are going to find some that don't get mail,'” Rocke said. “I still write letters every week.”
The Brown family, Charlie, Sarah and their son Kipton stretched a vinyl banner between them welcoming Stephen Bumb, of Ormond Beach, home.
“Stephen is a coworker at Florida Hospital Oceanside Peninsula Rehabilitation,” Charlie Brown said. “Everyone who works with him signed this banner. We will be happy to get him back. This is his third deployment.”
Cathy Heighter and her sister Susan Banks of Palm Coast came to greet the soldiers home even though they didn't have anyone on the plane.
"This is so important because I spend my time honoring all of our veterans, and it's also in honor of my own son's service and sacrifice,” Heighter said. “I lost him in 2003 in Iraq and since that time I have spent my life honoring our veterans and military men. I am a Gold Star mom and it's an honor for me to be out here.”