Kristin Hayden and her two young children watched the aircraft bursting through the clear blue sky Friday above the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon.
The Air Force plane making its final descent on the bright but chilly afternoon carried Capt. Brice Hayden, Ms. Hayden’s husband and the father of 5-year-old Klaire and 1-year-old Justin.
For Ms. Hayden and the kids, it was the first time in about four months they had seen Capt. Hayden, who was deployed with a C-130 unit in Qatar. Klaire, dressed in a green airman’s uniform just like her dad’s, ran out to meet him and jumped into his arms shortly after he got off the plane.
“It’s very emotional, as you can imagine,” Ms. Hayden said. “It’s more emotional seeing the kids’ reaction because they know that daddy’s coming home and he’s on that plane.”
Friday was a special day at the 911th, not just for the Hayden family and others who were reunited after months apart. It also marked the end of the 911th as a C-130 tactical aircraft unit: two of the wing’s C-130s returned to Pittsburgh for the last time Thursday, and the other two returned Friday.
“This is a pretty exciting day for us and it really closes a chapter in this airwing’s history,” said Col. Jeff Van Dootingh, commander of the 911th. “This is our last deployment with the C-130s, and today marks the last time we’ll have one returning from the area of responsibility in central command.”
The 911th now will assume a new role in the Air Force, becoming a strategic airlift mission with the C-17 Globemaster III, a much larger aircraft that has the capability to carry more cargo and personnel over greater distances.
Most of the wing’s C-130s will be transferred to Air National Guard or Air Force reserve bases throughout the United States. At least one of them will be retired soon.
The Air Force began using C-130s in 1954, and the 911th has been flying them since the 1980s, according to Col. Van Dootingh. The four-ship package that returned Thursday and Friday was used to transport food, ammunition, supplies and troops.
“In general, the mission of the C-130 hasn’t changed since day one,” Col. Van Dootingh said. “It’s a very unique aircraft because there are so many different versions of it that do all kinds of missions. There’s an AC-130, which is a gunship, the Hurricane Hunter is a C-130 used in search and rescue, and then, of course, what ours are, tactical airlift.”
Whatever the mission, it’s always a great feeling to return home, said Maj. Andy Thompson of Beaver, a C-130 pilot.
Maj. Thompson said this was his 16th deployment, and he always looks forward to that feeling he gets when he sees his wife and four children after he steps off the aircraft.
“It’s almost worth the trip,” Maj. Thompson said.