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Families Greet Returning Airmen with Tears, Smiles at Selfridge

Two dozen airmen of the 127th Civil Engineering Squadron of the Michigan Air National Guard returned home Sept. 1 from Afghanistan.

Clawson resident Nicole Burch had no words to describe the moment she handed her 4-month-old son, Mason, to his father, Staff Sgt. Kevin Burch, for the first time.

"Our 3-year-old (Alivia) mauled him as soon as he got off the plane. I couldn't wait to just hand him our little guy and say, 'This is daddy,'" Nicole Burch said of the family's first reunion.

Kevin Burch was among two dozen airmen of the 127th Civil Engineering Squadron of the Michigan Air National Guard to return home today from Afghanistan.

The Burch family, along with several other families, reunited with their loved ones not once, but twice; first when the squadron landed at Detroit Metro Airport, and later when the airmen were finally released from Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township. 

"I didn't let him get out of the terminal before I jumped him," said Midland resident Jolynn Erard, of her husband Jason's return.

The couple's children, who were not told of their father's return, were to enjoy a surprise reunion later in the day.

Since their deployment seven months ago, these airmen have relied on Facebook and Skype to keep in contact with their families and take part in important events.

Through a video link, Kevin Burch watched his son's birth, while Master Sgt. Lisha Lewis saw her son graduate from high school.

Staff Sgt. Doug Rallo helped his fiancée plan their wedding, which is now scheduled to take place Nov. 11, 2011. 

"Thank God for the Internet," said Rallo's fiancée Dawn Hobbel. "Finishing the wedding plans is going to be so much easier now that he's home."

Rallo's daughter, Brooke Rallo, 16, said she is just looking forward to "getting back into a routine and doing things as dad and daughter."

For Doug Rallo, only two things mattered as he stepped off the transport bus: seeing his family and seeing grass.

"There is no grass in that country," he joked, adding that he just wants to spend as much time as possible "with my girls."

However, with the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 only a week away, the significance of this homecoming was also felt by many in attendance. 

"It's still going to be tough for everyone back at home," said Doug Rallo, of life after Sept. 11. "It still affects everyone. But it's my job to serve my country and to protect my daughter and many others."

More than 200 airmen from the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge have been forward deployed so far in 2011, many to Afghanistan.

“These Airmen represent communities across Michigan," said Col. Michael Thomas, commander, 127th Wing at Selfridge, in a news release. "Their service rightfully brings honor and pride to all of us. We are anxious to say ‘welcome home.'"

While deployed, these airmen worked as part of the 877th Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron to help plan and design Shindand Air Base in Afghanistan, the first air base in that nation dedicated to the training of Afghan pilots.

At the Kunduz Heliport, they also helped to build the largest airfield in U.S. Air Force history to be created using AM2 mat, which creates a temporary runway and taxiway surface in lieu of concrete.

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