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Afghan Rotation Ends

Master Sgt. Darrel Schildknechc returns home after a deployment.

Master Sgt. Darrel Schildknechc returns home after a deployment.

Saint Joseph, Mo. -- Even though this was his fifth deployment, for Capt. Chris Walters this welcome home was especially difficult. Eyes red-rimmed and watery, he choked while hugging his wife Nikki and sons Trace, age nine, and 6-year old William. 

"I just missed you guys so much," said Walters, holding back tears. "It's OK," said Nikki as the boys clung to their Dad's tan flight suit. 

Walters joined 20 other maintenance and flight crew members from the 139th Airlift Wing for a 39-day deployment to Bagram airbase, Afghanistan. The group arrived home to St. Joseph, Mo., and Rosecrans Air National Guard Base July 11.
Taking two of the 139th's C-130 aircraft, the flight crews each averaged from 15 to 16 missions. In all, the Missouri aircraft completed 35 missions. Each flight crew member will receive an Air Medal. 

"We were busy," said Lt. Col. Ken McDaniel, Operations Director for the deployment. "We did a lot of air drops in support of the surge in the southwestern part of Afghanistan. We also did some air-land missions on short field unimproved strips." McDaniel and 
Walters both remembered the rocket attack on Bagram during the 139th rotation. "One detonated about a hundred meters from where we were," said Walters. "Yeah," added McDaniel. "They weren't very good either." 

With carnations, roses, and welcome home posters strewn around the civil engineering classroom, family members had been waiting for this day for nearly a month and a half. 

"It was crazy with him gone," said Nikki Walters, a radiologist at Heartland Health. "We were trying to find time to talk to Chris, the boys are in baseball, and we only got to talk to him every few days. I'm very glad to have him back." 

Maintenance crews made up half of the Missouri Air Guard deployment. "They are the greatest maintenance guys in the business," said Walters. "Other crews would get on our airplanes, would look around, and just say "Wow!" 

Walters said this deployment was busier than his previous four. "It was very hectic, we were always busy. Probably the highlight for me was when we flew out New York Times reporter David Rohde," he said. 

Rohde was held captive by the Taliban for more than seven months after being abducted outside of Kabul, Afghanistan Nov. 10 while researching a book. He escaped by climbing over a wall in Pakistan. 

"This is the sort of thing I talk about when I go to Air Mobility Command," said Brig. Gen. John Owen, assistant to the AMC Surgeon General. "Our thanks to the families and friends and I know your sacrifices. This is another worthwhile mission and thanks for your hard work and service." 

Before the Missouri Air Guard members could enjoy time with waiting families, there was the obligatory paperwork, a blood draw and medical forms. The 21 air guard members were led in groups of five to the clinic for the blood draw and a few medical questions.
For the Walters family of Wathena, Kan., the family time with Chris will be short. He leaves on a sixth rotation in three weeks. "It's hard," said Nikki. "But you can't take this away from him. It's what he does."