But there was no need for that, as Ronnie Mathis and more than 230 other members of the Dragon Masters, the 1-171st General Support Aviation Battalion, made it home Wednesday with a day to spare.
“It’s going to be great,” said Amy Mathis, a resident of Colbert. “All his family is going to be here.”
Jessica Hoad’s family was excited when they learned a week ago that her husband, Pfc. Cloyse Hoad, would be home for Thanksgiving.
“It means a lot,” said Jessica Hoad of Acworth. “We weren’t really sure he was going to come. We were just hoping he would be here so he would be with the whole family.”
While Jessica Hoad has taken care of 17-month-old C.J. Hoad without his father, others have picked up their husband’s chores.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” said Brandi Parker of Kennesaw, whose husband, Capt. Andrew Parker, the unit’s chaplain, had been gone for a year. “I’ll gladly hand back over the responsibilities that are his.”
The families were helped out by the unit’s Family Readiness Group.
“Basically, we’re here for all the needs that arise during the deployment,” said Sherri Rickard of Marietta, who is in charge of the readiness group for the unit’s Delta Co. Rickard said her duties have included contacting higher-ups to speed up the process of getting a soldier home to see a critically ill family member.
But Rickard’s time as a military wife is about to end, with her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Tim Rickard, retiring after 35 years in the service.
“I told him ‘It’s OK,’ he had done his job and done it well,” she said.
Cheers from family members erupted at first glimpse of a Miami Air International charter plane carrying the first of two groups of soldiers first became visible on the runway at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. They only became louder once the soldiers started walking down the plane’s stairs. The soldiers, most of who had been deployed for a year, lined up just outside the hangar.
Finally, patriotic music playing over the speakers was replaced by AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” and the soldiers made their way inside. After a short ceremony, they were reunited with their families.
“It’s hard to describe,” Tim Rickard said. “You spend a year dreaming about coming home. This is one of the best feelings you’ll ever have.”
Spc. Miles Crook of Kennesaw said he couldn’t wait for Thanksgiving dinner and the other simple pleasures of being home.
“Driving a car around and having a regular sleep schedule — and a decent amount of sleep,” he said. “And the food is totally different.”
The Dragon Masters were the largest battalion task force in Iraq, according to Georgia National Guard figures. Its members flew 50 aircraft on 3,500 missions, notching 25,000 combat hours.
Because of operational secrecy, officials at the base weren’t told exactly when the soldiers would be coming home until last week, Capt. Bryan Halpern said. That didn’t leave much time to prepare for two flights home, with a total of between 800 and 1,000 family members expected.
“It was a lot of coordination,” Halpern said.
The soldiers left Camp Taji in Iraq about a week ago, Halpern said. From there, it was on to Fort Hood, Texas, where they went through the process of demobilization.
After flying back from Texas on Wednesday, Tim Rickard said he looked forward to some down time.
“I’m going to take some time off, enjoy sleeping in my own bed, playing with the dog and enjoying my family,” he said.
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