Ceremony canceled; airman recognized

Eric Farley was supposed to have been named a hometown hero at Sunday's Wichita fireworks show.

Rain canceled that portion of the program.

But according to the people who live and work with Farley, it did nothing to diminish their respect for what he does: disabling explosives to keep others safe.

Staff Sgt. Farley, 26, is an explosive ordnance disposal operator for the U.S. Air Force and is what McConnell Air Force Base refers to as a "ready airman."

"Like so many airmen, he's ready to go," said Maj. Paul Silas, commander of the 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron at McConnell. "He has been called numerous times to serve his country and has gone on no less than four deployments."

In addition to serving in Afghanistan, Silas said, Farley has been called for VIP assignments. At a moment's notice, he can be sent anywhere to scout a location to make it is safe for national dignitaries.

Farley doesn't readily talk about such things.

"I almost had to drag him by his ear to get him in front of the crowd," Silas said. "He doesn't want attention. He is just very satisfied and happy just doing his job."

Farley grew up in Fayette, Ala., and dreamed of being in the military.

"It was always my dream," he said. "It was the uniform and the chance of an exciting life. It was a chance to get out of my small town and do new and interesting things."

In 2005, he was stationed at McConnell. It wasn't long after that he met Whitney Homan on the Internet. She was a Wichita State University student and working 50- to 60-hour weeks to put herself through college.

"We had a strictly online relationship that developed into phone calls and then we got to be close friends and started dating," Farley said.

Whitney Farley said she liked him because he was "ornery."

Just as they were getting to know one another, he was deployed for six months. When he came back, he proposed. They married in March 2008.

The couple are expecting their first child in January.

But he'll be deployed by then.

"I knew what I was signing up for when we got married," Whitney Farley said. "He told me up front, 'If you can't handle this job, you are not for me.' It is hard when he is gone and it is hard when he is in the middle of what he is doing and not talking for two to three weeks at a time. We do it because we have to."

There have been some close calls. Like the last time when he arrived at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan and learned that a local national had left a suspicious package in a parking lot of a local village.

It turned out to be two 80-pound containers of homemade explosives attached to a clock. The intended target was trucks carrying fuel and other supplies to Kandahar.

"We have robots that get us close without physically going up to it (the bomb), but we are reaching a situation in the world where sometimes robots are not always feasible and sometimes people go in hands on," Farley said.

Does that bother him?

"You get scared, but you always fall back on your training," he said. "We are trained. We are the best trained in the world at what we do.

"You always fall back on the training and have faith in what you are doing."

Organizers of the Hometown Hero event said they hope to reschedule the recognition ceremony later this summer.