Bittersweet reunion for Air Force unit return - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Bittersweet reunion for Air Force unit return

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Air Force Capt. James Steel, killed in jet crash in Afghanistan Air Force Capt. James Steel, killed in jet crash in Afghanistan
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC (WIS) -

About 100 airmen were reunited with their families Thursday night at Shaw Air Force Base.

They were coming back from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. 

It had all of the hallmarks of a happy homecoming: mothers hugging sons. Wives waiting on husbands. And kids hoping to live up to their parents.

After six months in Afghanistan, this was much needed.

"I've done too many deployments," said one airman. "Time for some down time."

"I've missed 'em!" said Staff Sgt. Uriah Eicholz. "Feels like we're home once more."

"It's pretty amazing," said Capt. Hugh Walker, who has been back for a few days and watched as his buddies from the 77th Fighter Squadron return.

But someone was absent: 29-year-old James Steel.

He was killed earlier this month when his F-16 crashed as he was coming in for landing near Bagram Airfield.

"It is really tough that someone didn't make it back with the rest of us," said Eicholz. "But he is back here with his family so that's a little bit of a comfort."

His death is a reminder of just how dangerous of a job this is.  It's a fact these families are well aware of.

"It's something that we do that's so dangerous and we do it every day," said Walker. "Across the entire Air Force, and we do it safely. It does get overshadowed I think. We go out no matter what. It doesn't matter what the environment is, we're going to go out and do our job."

There are still a few more members of the 77th on their way back home. They'll be arriving in the next few days. Meanwhile, the base will hold a memorial for Capt. Steel next week.

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