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Hundreds of Vermont Air National Guardsmen will return home after three months deployed overseas. The air guard pilots were the first to return flying their F-16 Fighting Falcons.

It was a big day for these pilots who got to reunite with their families after months apart. But while they are happy to be back on the ground in Vermont, we heard their stories of an ongoing and tense situation overseas.

“We are so proud of what they’ve done over the past few months,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Cray of the Vermont National Guard.

Their return marks the conclusion of a three-month deployment, their operations carried out in the Middle East.

“In direct opposition of ISIS, the general areas of operation were in Mosul and in Syria. Generally around the area of Rocca,” said Cray. 

Nine F-16 Fighting Falcons touched down just after noon Wednesday. Pilots were greeted by their families whom they haven’t seen since before the holidays.

“It’s been a lot of hard work over the last few months for sure,” said Cray. 

Capt. Cash Shaner pilots one of the F-16s which fires 20 mm cannon ammunition and carries guided bombs for air to ground support missions.

It was Shaner’s first combat deployment.

“There are a lot of bullets flying in Iraq and Syria right now. And we did see that for sure,” said Shaner. 

Shaner couldn’t discuss specifics of the mission he supported, called Operation Inherent Resolve, but he described personal challenges he faced in the cockpit.

“Flying in a foreign country. Flying with live weapons,” said Shaner. 

It took two days for the single-seat fighters to get home. They came across the ocean with a stop in between and refueled along the way.

“It was a really kind of special opportunity to get that chance to do it in the F-16 before those aircraft leave here in couple years,” said Shaner.

The F-16s are only the first to arrive back home. Thursday, we expect several hundred more support staff to come back to Vermont. The guard says airmen often worked up to 12 hours per day, seven days per week. They credited their training in the Green Mountains to properly preparing them.

“We always said we’re ready to go do this, and we got a chance to go prove it and I think we executed very well on the mission,” said Shaner. 

Of the 300 airmen who volunteered to be deployed, we are told nobody was injured during the mission. The pilot we spoke with says communication back home was relatively easily throughout his time there. He’s now looking forward to getting some good sleep, eating some good food and being back with his family.

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