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Home from a war zone

Saturday afternoon, near constant detonations inside Hangar 5 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station caused smiles, not security alerts.

No ordnance was discharging. It was simply hot air escaping as kids ran across sheets of plastic cushioning.

Four EA-6B Prowler jets with VAQ-133 returned after six months in Afghanistan. Thursday, ground personnel reunited with their families after flying in from the East Coast. Wizard air crews had been in Afghanistan for six months.

Each jet had been in the high desert since December 2003. VAQ-133 had been the latest Whidbey squadron to fly and maintain the radar-jamming jets.

Crews flew 177 out of 180 days in Southwest Asia. Ground crews working 12-hours on, 12-hours off round the clock kept planes ready to fly.

“We never missed a mission,” Cmdr. Charlie Gibson said.

“That’s a tribute to the work of squadrons VAQ-142, 134 and 133 which took over from each other,” Gibson, VAQ-133’s commanding officer, added. He was keeping a close eye on daughters Megan, 3-and-a-half, and Sarah, 1-and-a-half. And neither girl was ready to stray too far from their father.

Gibson characterized the deployment as a “challenging one in an interesting environment.” VAQ-133 crews supported ground missions in the War on Terror.

While no one spoke much about their flights, Gibson did say all their missions were at night and crews used night vision goggles constantly.

Flights that landed during daylight gave crews a good look at the country.

Gibson compared Afghanistan to land around Fallon, Nev.

“It’s a beautiful country,” Gibson said.

Lt. Tre Costello said flying over Afghanistan was better at night.

“You can’t see the nothingness around you,” Costello said, watching Jack Costello, 2, romp around.

Gibson said their camp looked much like TV’s venerable situation-comedy, MASH, which detailed life during the Korean War.

“We lived in plywood huts, not tents, otherwise it was similar to what we saw on TV,” Gibson laughed.

Everyone was warned not to walk off roads due to landmine and roadside bomb dangers.

Explosions were heard daily as crews cleared blew up unexploded ordnance and unlucky local people had their legs blown off.

However, the explosions from packing material didn’t raise eyebrows.

People were finally back home on Whidbey, not at home in a war zone.

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