The crowd of loved ones was restrained, obeying the rules to stay in a nearby hanger, but only to a point. Once the airmen had greeted their commanders, the crowd rushed in.
As we talked with some of the returning airmen and their wives, the theme-of-the-day seemed to be an appreciation for those who waited at home. Tech Sgt. John Otis of North Salt Lake said, "Leaving my wife to do all the hard work, you know, raising them, that's the hardest part."
"It's just hard to be away from each other." admitted military wife Ashley Smith.
Her husband, Tech Sgt. Justin Smith added, "We have pets and cars and things. Everything goes wrong when you leave. So, I think that's probably the roughest part -- knowing that I'm over there and all I have to do is take care of myself while she's home dealing with everything alone."
It was as if they were taking a page from John Milton, "They also serve who only stand and wait."
The 4th was deployed to South Korea. Things on the Korean Peninsula were calm when they arrived in October, but over the last couple months North Korea heated things up.
Col. Scott Long, commander of 388th fighter wing, said, "30% of the economy -- the commerce of the world -- goes through that area. Our presence there provides stability and keeps freedom alive and well on the peninsula."
Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq -- you name it, the 388th has been there, which makes the homecoming all the sweeter. Just ask little Audrey, Tech Sgt. Smith's daughter, "We're going to get ice cream after he changes."
And there will be time for ice cream. The airmen get a couple weeks leave before returning to work at Hill.
But for the immediate future, that work will not include flying. The fighter pilots have been grounded from training missions because of mandatory federal budget cuts that went into effect earlier this year.