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109th ACS Warlocks return home

Tech. Sgt. Randon Beckstead kisses his wife after returning from a deployment to Southeast Asia, November 18, 2010, at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City. Sergeant Beckstead is a member of the 109th Air Control Squadron who was deployed for six months. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Gary J. Rihn)(RELEASED)

Tech. Sgt. Randon Beckstead kisses his wife after returning from a deployment to Southeast Asia, November 18, 2010, at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City. Sergeant Beckstead is a member of the 109th Air Control Squadron who was deployed for six months. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Gary J. Rihn)(RELEASED)

Capt. David Mulder is interviewed for a local TV station while he waits for his wife, Master Sgt. Cate Mulder, to arrive at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City, Utah, on November 18. Master Sgt. Mulder is a member of the 109th Air Control Squadron who spent six months deployed to Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Gary J. Rihn)(RELEASED)

Capt. David Mulder is interviewed for a local TV station while he waits for his wife, Master Sgt. Cate Mulder, to arrive at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City, Utah, on November 18. Master Sgt. Mulder is a member of the 109th Air Control Squadron who spent six months deployed to Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Gary J. Rihn)(RELEASED)

SALT LAKE CITY -- After six months of waiting and worrying, the families of the 109th Air Control Squadron roared as the chartered 767 carrying their loved ones touched down on the Utah Air National Guard Base's flight line on the evening of November 18.

After a few rowdy minutes of celebratory cheering, mixed with a bit of joyous tears, the plane finally arrived in front of the hangar, led by a convoy of flashing lights and sirens. As the aircraft door opened, the anxious looks were replaced by relief, as one by one, the men and women of the 109th ACS came into view at the top of the stairs. Emotions overflowed as husbands and wives, mothers and sons, fathers and children, were reunited in hugs and gatherings of friends and family.

Daniel Mulder, the 8-year-old son of deployed member Master Sgt. Cate Mulder, said that the return of his mother had extra special meaning for him. Not only was he ready for some of her good home cooking again, but she returned on his birthday, a very special present this year.

Over the past 10 years, the 109th has deployed five times. The unit's most recent deployment found them in the scorching heat of Southeast Asia where they were supporting ground forces half a continent away by coordinating air combat support for troops who were in contact with enemy forces in Afghanistan.

"During our five-month deployment, the 109th ACS worked at least six days a week to ensure equipment was operational in order to maintain a 24-hour air defense posture as well as to provide air support to the warfighters on the ground in Afghanistan," explained Maj. Randy Stevens, 109th ACS commander. "I consider myself extremely privileged to be the squadron commander of the 109th ACS, and consider myself fortunate to be able to lead these great Americans to war."

The 109th ACS is one of only a handful of units that can provide the necessary radar surveillance and identification, along with command and control, of Coalition aircraft. For this reason, they find themselves frequently in demand, and often deployed to some of the most remote battleground locations. But while the high demand for their services keeps them busy, chances are you'd be hard pressed to find one of them who wouldn't willingly get back on another plane to go do it again.

When asked if she would be willing to deploy again, Senior Master Sgt. Pam Hamburg immediately replied "I can tell you that whole unit would say that."

The 109th is scheduled to deploy again in 2014. Of course, with their skills and value to the combatant commanders, they know that this is always fluid and subject to change - and they wouldn't have it any other way.

"Anytime the Warlocks get called upon to provide support to the war, every one of my Airmen eagerly responds," said Major Stevens. "Warfighting is our business...this is what we do."