Steve Ranson

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January 31, 2013
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The loud cheering and hollering reverberated against the walls and pillars inside the baggage terminal of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.Several hundred people, many with homemade signs and banners, waved them furiously Wednesday morning as soldiers from a Nevada Army National guard aviation unit marched in tandem, freshly back from an 11-month deployment to Afghanistan.The moment wasn't lost on Sgt. John Hefner Jr., who grew up in Douglas County.“I was overwhelmed but felt like we were rock stars,” he said, grinning widely. “Everyone was cheering, waving their signs. That meant a lot.” Hefner was one of about 40 soldiers from Bravo Company, 189th General Support Aviation Battalion, who arrived shortly before noon. The company, which has it headquarters at the Army Aviation Support Facility north of Reno at Stead, spent most of the deployment at Forward Operating Base Shank, a key installation southwest of Kabul used as a staging area against the Taliban and other insurgents.Aviators and their flight crews primarily ferried equipment, supplies and special operations units board the twin-rotor Chinook CH47D helicopters. The 189th is the same Nevada Guard aviation unit that lost five aviators, including two from the Silver State, in September 2005 when insurgents shot down their Chinook.Hefner, who joined the National Guard in 2005, was a helicopter mechanic and night supervisor.Before Hefner and his fellow soldiers arrived at the north end of the baggage terminal, his family waited anxiously. Carson City resident Rosemarie Hefner, Jon's mother, waved a banner to welcome him home.“It feels wonderful. I feel relieved and feel like he is safe,” she said.Caitlin Hefner, John's wife, echoed the feeling.“I am so nervous, excited and proud,” she added, before hugging her husband.His father, John Sr., who retired several years ago as a command sergeant major in the Nevada Army National Guard, spent most of his career working as a full-time guardsman in Carson City. He couldn't contain his enthusiasm waiting to see his son.“I was very anxious,” he said. “I was on ‘pins and needles' for that deployment. It's different being on this side.”The elder Hefner said when he served as a sergeant major, he took care of all the soldiers. This time around, he was focused on his son's safety.“Facebook and email made this deployment easier,” he said, referring to the easy communication between FOB Shank and Nevada.Retired Command Sgt. Major Don Gable Sr., the longest serving soldier in Nevada Guard history, was relieved to see his son, 1st Sgt. Don Gable Jr., return.“I am so proud of him,” said Gable, who lives in Yerington. “This was his second tour, and I am glad he is safe. This time around, he had so much more responsibility as first sergeant.”Sgt. Thomas Kiernan of Dayton said the homecoming was “exhilarating.”“Walking into a crowd of roaring people was cool,” Kiernan said. “I wasn't expecting to see a big crowd.”Kiernan said once inside the baggage area, it was easy to spot his wife and family.“Everybody was excited,” he added.During the deployment, Kiernan served as a crew chief and flight engineer and assisted with sling-load missions.The thought of coming home didn't affect Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dan Walters of Genoa until the company left FOB Shank and arrived at one of the country's largest airfields to begin their long odyssey to the United States.“I think reality started to settle in when we left Bagram,” said Walters, who also deployed with the unit in 2005.Walters spent most of his time at the airport hugging his wife and two daughters. On every flight, Walters always carried a photograph of them.Once the unit left Afghanistan in mid-January, the soldiers arrived at Fort Hood, Texas, to update their records and complete medical evaluations.Overall, Capt. Michael Bordallo, commander of the aviation company, said the deployment was successful and that everyone returned home safely.“It was a good mission, and we completed all the important tasks well,” he said.Bordallo also said the final three weeks at Fort Hood may have been the hardest period of time, but he said the soldiers were upbeat:“The mood was positive. The energy was positive. Soldiers understood what needed to happen before we could get home, and they were executing,”

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Feb 2, 2013 05:15AM Published Jan 31, 2013 03:46AM Copyright 2013 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.