Members of McConnell's 184th Intelligence Wing honored as hometown heroes

Many of the Kansas Air National Guard's airmen and women return from deployment in small groups or alone, and are greeted by close friends and family, rather than large celebrations.

Col. Michael Foster, Commander of the guard's 184th Intelligence Wing, said that is just fine with his troops.

"When you've been gone for six months you don't want to stick around for a ceremony," he said. "You want to get back to mom and kids and get some home cooking."

But Sunday, 299 members of the 184th, who had been deployed oversees since 2001 in operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Noble Eagle and other operations got their celebration.

The airmen and women were honored at an event called Hometown Heroes Salute at Rose Hill High School.

During the ceremony each airman and woman stood and was recognized individually along with their families.

"We like to consider ourselves a family unit-- a small-town unit," Foster said, about the 184th, which is stationed at McConnell Air Force Base.

Sr. Master Sgt. Hervey Carraway, said he was glad his wife and son were included in the celebration.

"They're the ones that really keep things going when we're away," he said.

Carraway, who returned from deployment in Turkey in 2003, said he still appreciates the recognition for his service overseas years later.

'It kind of reminds you why you do it," he said.

Hometown Heroes Salute, which was commissioned in 2008 by the National Guard Bureau will be a national annual event.

Cpt. Deborah Balentine, who was on the committee that organized the celebration, said she thought the event went well, considering the number of airmen and women who were recognized. She said next years' event will be smaller, as it will only honor those deployed in 2010.

After the ceremony the airmen and women were given a plaque commemorating their service oversees, as well as gifts for their spouses and children.

During the event Tech. Sgt. Justin Moody, his wife Lesley, and their daughters Jordan, 2, and Rylie, 7 months, received the gifts ceremoniously for the entire unit.

"He is a family man, and he is a member of the Wichita community," Foster said. "I just thought he was a great representation of the community and the Kansas Air National Guard."

Moody, who returned from Iraq in May, just two days before Rylie was born, said he was glad to have time with his wife and daughters before officially celebrating his return with the unit.

"It was great to be able to reconnect with my family before all the pomp and circumstance," he said.

Still, the celebration was nice.

"I was just so honored," he said.