Little Elias Pena and his sisters, Vicky and Anne, were told they were going to Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 23 to pick up a family friend. What the children weren’t told was that their father, Sr. Airman Domingo Pena, was returning home from a deployment in Southeast Asia.
The children weren’t the only ones in for a surprise. Pena wasn’t told that his family would be at Andrews to welcome him home. It wasn’t until the bus in which Pena and other returning airmen were riding drove past a hanger on the base that he realized his surprise.
“I said, ‘Oh! They are here!’” Pena said of his children, 9, 7 and 5, respectively.
It had been a lonely time for the aircraft mechanic without his children and wife.
The moment Pena stepped off that bus, his children dashed into his arms.
“It was difficult,” said Pena. “I missed the kids everyday and the wife. It was just difficult to be away for so long.”
About 40 members of the 459th Air Refueling Wing were welcomed back home at a ceremony at the Prince George’s County military facility. Their mission to Southeast Asia, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, was to fly and maintain a fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, the large aircraft that can refuel other planes and jets in-flight. They were deployed for four months.
Aaron Snow, 27, works on the plane’s guidance and control systems. The broad smile on his face Sept. 23 said it all.
“It feels great to be home,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. I’m excited to be back with my family.”
It was Snow’s first deployment and it took a while to adjust, he said.
“It was over 100 [degrees] every day,” he said. “Normally with the heat index, it was generally around 120. I think the highest [temperature] we had was 132 degrees with the heat index.”
Three of the large refueling planes returned to Andrews on Monday. The first touched down at about 10:15 in the morning. Jet engine mechanic P.J. Peters was on that first plane. He was greeted by his parents, wife and children, including oldest daughter, Halley, who hugged him tight as she cried happy tears.
“It feels great to be back,” said Peters.
Like Snow, it was Peters’ first deployment. He sought advice from his father, a military retiree, about how to survive and even thrive while serving away from home.
“Main thing I told him was, ‘Do what the people tell you. Do as you’re told,’” Willie Peters, Jr. said. “’Remember your training and you won’t have any problems.’”
Peters’ mother, Karen, said she worried every day about her 6’7’’ tall son. She became particularly concerned when things began flaring up in Syria and there was talk of a military strike. Karen Peters, who spent 12 years in the Army, said she feared the military might keep her son away even longer.
“When things like that occur…we hold them in place, so I had a strong feeling that he might have been kept there,” she said. “They maintain soldiers where they are to see if they might be needed at some point. That was the scary part when Syria started becoming more active.”
Fortunately, for Peters and the other members of the 459th, military action didn’t happen in the Middle East and they were able to come home.
For that, Linda Snow, Aaron’s mother, was thankful.
“The Lord took care of him,” she said. “I can sleep better knowing that he’s okay.”