It was too long a wait for Beth Carney, as her boyfriend shook hands Friday morning with every last commanding officer.
Before he even finished gripping the last officer’s hand, she grabbed him for a long kiss in the middle of the tarmac.
It was the first time they’d seen each other in almost a year.
“This is probably the most exciting day of my whole life,” she said.
Carney’s boyfriend, Travis Brown, was one of about 400 S.C. National Guardsmen serving with the 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, which returned home Friday to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The unit, based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, flew Apache combat helicopters during the final months of the drawdown in Iraq before shifting to Kuwait in December.
There, the unit flew reconnaissance missions along the Persian Gulf coastline, partnered with the Kuwaiti air force to conduct training missions. The 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion also worked closely with the Navy and supported maritime operations in northern portions of the Persian Gulf.
But the mission was the last thing on Staff Sgt. Melinda Sims’ mind when her feet touched South Carolina soil.
“I am probably going to eat the biggest pimento cheeseburger I can find,” she said.
She had already come home from three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marine Corps, but Friday was the first time she’d been welcomed home by her family. She said it was a different experience waiting to get off the plane when she knew that her mom and dad would be looking for her.
“I was so anxious to see them,” she said. “I could see them through the window but I couldn’t get off fast enough.”
Her parents, who drove up from Panama City, Fla., were anxious, too.
They waited in a large, closed hangar at Eagle Aviation with hundreds of families holding signs and American flags. After waiting for the hangar’s door to slide open so he could welcome his daughter, Rodney Sims said the anticipation got to him.
“It was tense waiting on her,” he said. “We’ve been waiting on her to come home. We’ve been waiting for a while.”