Sgt. Andrew Elliott of the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing is happy to be back home in South Toledo with his wife, Tanya, and 17-month-old daughter, Allison.
Oppressive heat and sandstorms are old news to Sgt. Andrew Elliott, who served in the Middle East several times during his 21 years in the military.
Sergeant Elliott confronted a much greater hardship on his most recent assignment in Saudi Arabia.
It was the first time he had to leave his child behind.
“I felt like I was really missing out on a big part of her life,” he said. “That was tougher than I thought.”
Sergeant Elliott and a dozen other members of the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing returned yesterday from a five-month stay at an air base in Saudi Arabia.
“She's reading and running and talking and doing somersaults,” Sergeant Elliott said of 17-month-old Allison. “She's gotten a lot bigger. She's a little person now.”
After a brief stop at their Toledo Express Airport base, many of the guardsmen went home to family or friends.
While in Saudi Arabia, the 13 locally based troops were part of a security forces squadron.
“We secured the entire base and guarded the planes,” Senior Airman Brett Czaja said. “It was everything I expected: hot and sandy.”
The unit worked 14-hour shifts for six days each week and struggled with constantly blowing sand that crept into the troops' food and clothing.
In recent months, daytime temperatures regularly reached 115 degrees.
“It was kind of like having a blow dryer in your face because it was really hot and windy,” Sergeant Elliott said.
On top of enduring uncomfortable weather and long hours, Senior Airman Jeremiah Gallaher said he often worried about his family during his time in Saudi Arabia.
While he was away, his wife worked full-time and cared for their infant son, Isaac.
“It was tough, but we got through it,” Airman Gallaher said.
More than 70 members of the 180th security forces have been on active duty since October, 2001.
The troops were sent to several areas, including Bosnia, Kyrgyzstan, and Germany.
Those who returned home yesterday will be on leave for two weeks.
While they were stationed in Saudi Arabia, the troops lived in barracks on the air base and had regular phone and e-mail contact with their loved ones overseas.
But for a few days after the United States went to war in Iraq, Sergeant Elliott's wife, Tanya, said she heard nothing from her husband.
“That was rough because I didn't know if his mission had changed,” she said. “We're just glad he's home.”