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Reservists from 914th Airlift Wing Return Home

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Emotions ran high at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base Monday as family members welcomed home about 50 local reservists from the 914th Airlift Wing.

They flew into the base on board C-130 Hercules aircraft after serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Family and friends cheered as the members emerged from the planes. Major Buff Hoffman says it's "fantastic" to be home, but sad to leave others in Iraq.

"We feel real bad for the guys who are still back there, even though most of them volunteered to stay," Hoffman said. "But we all wished we could come back as a group."

More than 300 members of the 914th Airlift Wing were called to active duty in March. They initially returned home in August and a week later were re-deployed. Jerry McNeles says it's "wonderful" to be home. McNeles, his wife and daughter-in-law all burst into tears as he spoke.

"It's great to be here," McNeles said. "The weather's much better. There's grass. And I've got my family, my wife."

McNeles was happy to be back, but sad because his son Timothy is also serving in Iraq and volunteered to stay on duty. Daughter-in-law Carry McNeles, standing with her arm around her father in-law, bravely spoke about her husband's decision to stay.

"He's over there doing the job that needs to be done and supporting all his fellow men and women over there who are keeping us at home safe," she said.

Unit Commander Colonel Jim Roberts says the "mission of Niagara Falls" continues with a number of 914th reservists still serving. But Roberts says the local unit is making a statement overseas, setting an example for those serving in Iraq.

"As soon as they hit the ground, they bring this terrific attitude with them," Roberts said. "Everybody begins to ask who are those guys. And the answer of course is those are the folks from Niagara. The morale is terrific."

While serving in Iraq, the 914th members transported troops, equipment and even US leaders, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell. Members who returned Monday could still be called to serve again. But Roberts says it is "highly unlikely" that they would go back to the desert.