Tech. Sgt. Jason Benschoter returned home to Bowling Green from Iraq in February.
Still, his mother, grandparents, sister, and niece all turned out Sunday when he and 21 other members of the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing were recognized as part of a special Hometown Heroes Salute.
The Guardsmen had served at least 30 days in overseas operations since Sept. 11, 2001.
Two-year-old Olivia Doogs was perched in the arms of her father, Shawn Doogs, for much of the hour-long ceremony.
Mr. Doogs of Bloomdale, Ohio, in Wood County, an aerospace technician at the National Guard base, said he's been deployed six times, but his trip to Iraq in December was the first deployment since his daughter was born.
“I was worried she wouldn't remember me,” he said.
“But she ran right up to him when he got back,” his wife, Tara, chimed in.
Mr. Doogs said Sunday's fanfare was nice. “It's nice to know you're appreciated,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Harry “A.J.” Feucht, commander of the Ohio Air National Guard, along with a lineup of area legislators led by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), thanked all who have served and congratulated the 180th for achieving an “excellent” rating after an eight-day operational readiness inspection in August by the Air Combat Command of the U.S. Air Force.
“We are here today in support of your phenomenal efforts,” Miss Kaptur said.
“There aren't that many ‘excellents' around the country. Thank you for your noble efforts. Thank you for answering your country's call.”
Base Commander Col. Mark E. Bartman called the celebration a “pit stop” in a very fast-paced race the base has been running.
“We actually started getting ready for the inspection two years ahead of time,” Colonel Bartman said.
“It involves flying, simulating loading up bombs for airplanes as if we really were at war, suiting up for chemical warfare situations. … It's a major, major inspection.”
Excellent is the second-best rating — “outstanding” is the best — on a five-tier system intended to show a unit is prepared to deploy overseas and carry out its mission.
Colonel Bartman said the 180th has a lot more on its plate with inspections occurring more frequently than in the past and a large-scale deployment scheduled for 2011.
Three hundred or so members of the 180th are expected to be deployed to South Korea for 60 to 90 days next year, he said.
After the ceremony, Guardsmen and their families were treated to dinner by BBQ for Our Troops, a nonprofit group that cooks and serves food to show its support for American troops.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at:email@example.com or 419-724-6129.