Duluth Air Guard members return from AfghanistanFamilies and friends awaited the arrival of about 50 airmen, the first wave of about 300 National Guard troops returning from a tour providing support to ground troops in Afghanistan.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
The Nelson family of six ever so slightly edged toward the rope separating them from the traffic on the tarmac Monday at the 148 Fighter Wing base in Duluth.
Their excitement in seeing Tech. Sgt. Paul Nelson for the first time in more than two months fueled the migration. His parents, wife and three children could not stay still, their nervous energy shuffling their feet en masse to the outer limit of the roped area as they waited for a cargo plane full of airmen to approach.
The excitement was catching, of course, as other families and friends awaited the arrival of about 50 airmen, the first wave of about 300 National Guard troops returning from a tour providing support to ground troops in Afghanistan.
Some of the fighter wing’s new F-16 jets came back as well, and more airmen will return in the coming days. About 30 percent of the personnel on the base were involved in the deployment.
Cries of “Daddy” filled the air as the plane was sighted on the horizon and landed at 3:30 p.m. It taxied and then parked 100 yards from the hangar where families like the Nelsons had first been waiting inside, out of the fall chill. They held watch with “Welcome Home” signs and wide anticipatory smiles.
The Nelsons of Barnum got the news of Monday’s arrival when they saw and talked with Paul via a video computer connection two days earlier.
This isn’t the longest of his deployments, Paul’s mother, Teri, said. In 2006, when he was in the Navy, Paul Nelson was in Iraq for 10 months. A little more than two months is still a long time, Teri said as all three of her grandchildren — Megan, Jacob and Brandon — nodded their heads in agreement.
Nelson has served 21 years in the military, switching over to the air base when the Navy closed its Duluth Operational Support Center in 2007.
“That’s him,” Jacob Nelson said of his dad as the airmen departed the plane and zoomed across the tarmac.
As the first airmen reached the roped-off area, applause came first and then hugs. Children were thrown into their father’s arms.
“What have you been doing?” Jeff Jukich asked his curly-haired, 3-year-old son Joseph over and over.
Nelson heartily embraced each of his six family members. Then there was a slight pause and warm looks. They all wanted the moment to last longer, but Nelson had one more deployment order to take care of.
“I have to check in,” he said, and headed to the side door of the hangar.
The Nelsons watched patiently again for Paul to finish his paperwork.
Skype is nice, but “seeing him in person is much better,” Megan said.
“He’s got longer hair,” Jacob said of his father’s crew cut. “He’s a little tanner too.”
Nelson’s children said they most missed their father at their fall sports events. Jacob’s last football game was last week. Megan will be happy to have her father at her playoff volleyball game Thursday.
Paperwork done, Paul joined the family again.
Nelson said he plans to make a big pot of chili at home and enjoy it without a military chow line.
“A sit-down dinner,” he said, beaming. “No paper plates.”
Barracks were only 200 yards from the runway at Kandahar Air Field. He’s looking forward to some northern Minnesota quiet.
He’s also looking forward to not dealing with the constant dust in Afghanistan.
And deer hunting season. His children were sure he would check on his deer stand the first chance he got.
“I suppose it’s time to get things ready,” he said.
First, the two boys want to take him upstairs and play video games with their father.
“Call of Duty,” Jacob said with pure glee in his voice.