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Nellis airmen return from Horn of Africa to open arms

The magic moment happened for 30 airmen Wednesday evening at Nellis Air Force Base.

After more than four months of absence and a couple hours of waiting, they returned to the arms of their loved ones following a rescue helicopter mission in the Horn of Africa.

For Staff Sgt. Daniel Schott it meant holding Fulton, his 6-week-old son, for the first time with a warm embrace from his wife, Shelby. The couple’s two other two children, Cadence, 4, and Tavin, 2, waited at home to celebrate their dad’s return.

That moment in the hangar of the 66th Rescue Squadron was “awesome,” said Schott, 27, a member of the 823rd Maintenance Squadron, whose job is to keep the “birds” — a trio of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters — flying.

“There are no words to describe it,” he said about seeing Fulton in person for the first time.

To not be there when Fulton was born on Christmas at the base hospital “was hard. But this guarantees that I will be with him for the first year of his life. The other two (Cadence and Tavin), one I went to basic with and the other I deployed with so I never saw the whole first year.”

As far as deployments go, “This was nothing like Afghanistan,” he said.

Nevertheless, it was time away from family.

“You go over there and you do what you need to do and come home.”

For Shelby Schott, of San Jose, Calif., the time “went by really quick. We had a lot going on.”

The lumbering C-5 Galaxy cargo plane that brought home the airmen and a couple of their Pave Hawks touched down at 5:44 p.m. after flying to Nellis from Gander Island, Newfoundland, where the giant jet had made a refueling stop in Canada.

Capt. Ted Rogers, who greeted reporters at the hangar for the team’s arrival, said the primary Horn-of-Africa mission was to be ready to search for and rescue downed pilots and provide embassy relief.

One of the co-pilots on the mission, Capt. Evan McNeal, 25, said the deployment was safe. “We didn’t have any close calls. It was a lot different than you would expect going through the AOR,” the area of responsibility.

“The flying conditions were great. We really didn’t run into any bad weather. It was usually nice and sunny outside,” he said. “It was nice during the mission but I couldn’t wait to get back.”

His wife, Lauren, said this first deployment meant him being away from their 1-year-old twins, Harper and Eli, and son, William, 2.

“We hope the babies remember him,” she said, trying to keep the kids entertained while the airmen were shuttled to the hangar aboard a bus. “We’re just excited and anxious.”

Kelsey Green, 21, waited with her 8-month-old son, Braylen, for husband and father Senior Airman Tyler Green. While he was gone, she said she was “a little bit scared and nervous. He missed him crawling and standing up for the first time, and his first words, ‘mama’ and ‘dada.’ It makes me sad he missed it.”

Ashleigh Morel, 20, disliked not knowing what her husband, Senior Airman Tyler Morel, 21, was doing during the deployment.

Wednesday night, though, she said she was going to “kiss him really big, and give him a big hug.”

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Follow him on Twitter @KeithRogers2.

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