Within hours of the United Nations Security Council's decision to impose an arms embargo and no-fly zone on Libya in March, according to 4 Wing commander Col. Patrice Laroche, F-18s were on route from Cold Lake to do what they could to help. Early Saturday morning, more than six months later, families in 4 Wing welcomed their soldiers home again.
Planes carrying the soldiers, most from 409 Squadron, landed just after 4:30 a.m. in Cold Lake, and a delegation of soldiers, including Laroche, gathered on the ramp to meet them. After spending some time filling out paperwork, getting orders for the upcoming week, and readjusting to the weather, the soldiers were then bused to the Military Family Resource Centre, where their families had gathered to wait for them.
Laroche greeted the returning soldiers in the airport, and afterwards said, “We're so excited to have the troops home, this is so amazing. It's a great Chrismas gift for the families. They never knew when the mission was going to end.”
He mentioned the mission in Libya, saying, “We displayed the world class capability that we have to the world and to our allies and throughout the time they were there, they were true professionals.
“We're really thankful for their efforts and their sacrifice and we're glad to have them home for Christmas.”
Parents, spouses, and children of the deployed soldiers had spent the day before painting welcome home banners, and most were already crying before they found their returning family members in the crowd.
Cpl. Justin Levac, who had just been reunited with his wife Brittany and daughter Seanna, explained how it felt to be home again after six long months away, especially being reunited with his wife, who is expecting their second child, and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Seanna.
“This little one here,” he said, holding Seanna, “…picked me out of everyone in green. She knew who I was, so it actually almost made me cry.”
He added the support his family received from 4 Wing gave him peace of mind while he served overseas.
“It was rough for them,” he said. “(Brittany) actually moved from one PMQ to another while I was gone, so it wasn't easy, but she had help from deployment support and she had help from the squadron, so it's nice to hear that everyone was helping out back home to make the families a little more comfortable.”
The help and support on 4 Wing also helped Joelene Sexsmith pass the time while waiting for her husband Master Cpl. Will Bown to return from deployment.
“There were a lot of people, they just came together and one other good friend… Ashley (Wilts), we just stuck together like glue and found support in each other and kept busy doing a lot together.”
“Things will be set right again,” Joelene said, arm linked through Will's. “We'll get back to some sort of normalcy.”
Will said being home again and reunited with his wife and daughter Adelle was, “overwhelming, it's great, it's exciting, I don't know how to say it. It's just great to be back and have my girls.”
He added, “It went by fast, for sure, but it's definitely a great experience, finally getting to put the training to use for a better purpose, for Libyans and to help them out.”
This was Will's first tour, and he was affected by the effects he and his squadron had on the Libyan people.
“They paint murals on their walls to show that they're artistic and the freedom that they have to be able to express their emotions through their artwork — they were never able to do that before,” he said.
Master Cpl. Daryll Wilts, who was reunited with his wife Ashley and daughter Grace, echoed similar feelings.
“There were times when it was tough, and long work days, but knowing you were actually doing something that means something, that you're helping people out, it's a reward itself at that point.”
He was awarded the Task Force Libeccio Commander's Commendation for his efforts in the mission.
Still, he was glad to be home. “After six months of being away, it's just great to be able to actually have family close again, being able to talk to them, hug them, kiss them, rather than just be on a phone or through a computer.”
Derek Chopowick, standing with his wife Karen, said he wouldn't be home officially until he was sitting on his sofa with a drink of choice in his hand.
He added, “It's like a great weight has been lifted off the shoulders.”