Twelve members of the 130 EIS return from Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lillian Harnden
  • 151 ARW/PA
Family members welcomed home 12 members of the 130th Engineering Installation Squadron as they returned from deployment at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Nov. 16.

Returning Guardmembers served a six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom throughout several forward operating bases in Afghanistan.

Heidi Ward, a working mother of three boys and wife of returning Guardsman Staff Sgt. Christian Ward, said she is relieved that her husband came home in time for the delivery of her fourth baby, which is due any day.

"It was harder than I thought it would be, but we're just very proud of him and glad he is able to do his part to defend our country," said Ward.

Tiffany Santistevan, wife of Senior Airman Dave Santistevan, expressed feeling "immediate tears and excitement" when she saw her husband coming down the stairs.

"It was so surreal," said Tiffany. "It's been so long that it's hard to believe that it's over. I am absolutely relieved and feel like I can just breathe again."

Tiffany also had advice for military wives with husbands about to deploy.

"Just make sure you have a strong support system and stay focused on the positive," she said. "I recommend disconnecting from the military news because it does make it hard not knowing where he's at and not knowing when the next time is you're going to get to talk to him."

Tiffany's husband, Dave Santistevan, a returning member of the 130th EIS, described what his first deployment was like.

"The experience is like being blindfolded there," he said. "Going there, not knowing too much about it, just living everyday life, sleeping in tents and going out to forward operating bases, it's different there--a lot of things I haven't experienced before."

Master Sgt. Greg Taylor, a team chief with the 130th EIS who just completed his fifth deployment, explained his impressions.

"Things are what you make of it while you're deployed," said Taylor. "You keep busy. You stay occupied. You take whatever challenges come at you and adapt, overcome and succeed at those challenges. You learn from those challenges."

Taylor also explained why this deployment was distinct from others.

"It was different because we were Airmen embedded with the Army," said Taylor. "We learned how to be Army. We were working side by side, working for the Army this time."

Additionally, Taylor provided advice to first-time-deploying Guardmembers.

"Go with a positive attitude. Stay busy," he said. "Take the challenges head-on. Get involved and make yourself useful over there. Before you know it the time will have gone by. You'll have bettered yourself and you'll be on your way home."

Brig. Gen. Dallen Atack, Assistant Adjutant General--Army of the Utah National Guard, expressed pride in returning Guardmembers.

"We're just so proud of what they did," said Atack. "We know they were really living in the Wild West out there. They had some real challenges on this deployment but they all came home and they all came through it. They did a tremendous job. It's nice to have them all home and all safe."

Commander of the 130th EIS, Lt. Col. Kevin Tobias, revealed some of those challenges faced by his Airmen.

"They were in the thick of it a lot more than others," said Tobias. "They were at different forward operating bases and in smaller groups. Three of our Guardsmen were under fire at one time. The Army is trying to give them combat awards for it."

Tobias also boasted about their accomplishments while deployed.

"I'm very proud of what they've done," continued Tobias. "They represented the 130th and the Utah Air National Guard very well. There was a group of them that was Team of the Month one month. They went above and beyond. They worked really hard the whole time they were there. They left a good impression with the Army."

As the second batch of 130th EIS members to return in the last 30 days, the 130th is now all back together as a unit, and their commander described his relief at having them all back.

"I'll sleep better," said Tobias. "It feels good not to have anybody in harm's way."