Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jerry Martin had his own cheering squad when he returned home Thursday from six months of guarding the Baghdad airport.
“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry,” Debbie Nadeau chanted as she and four co-workers pumped one-letter signs that spelled “J-E-R-R-Y.”
Nadeau, Greg Orlando, Rose Smith, Andy Anderson and Doreen Kruger work in the 28-member Kootenai County Juvenile Probation Department, where Martin is a juvenile probation officer.
“We missed him really, really bad,” 10-year-old Natasha Martin said, clinging to her father with one arm and a teddy bear with the other.
Siblings Tatiana, 7, and Kevin, 17, joined in a group hug as Martin kissed his wife, Rita.
Martin was one of some 40 members of the Spokane-based 141st Security Forces who climbed out of a KC-135 air tanker – flown by their wing commander – and walked down a flag-lined corridor to be reunited with friends and family Thursday.
The guardsmen were stationed for six months at Sather Air Base at Baghdad International Airport. Their mission focused on guarding the airport, bases and other facilities.
“It’s great to be home,” Martin said, adding that he was surprised to be greeted by so many people from his office. “It’s good to see the support not only from our families but our employers.”
The honor guard was provided by the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group and several police agencies.
A dozen of the returning guardsmen are police officers in civilian life – for the Washington State Patrol, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, the Coeur d’Alene Police Department and the Spokane International Airport Police Department.
WSP Trooper Tom Shirey called the homecoming “outstanding.”
“It’s beyond description,” he said, surrounded by his children, 18-year-old Tricia, 15-year-old Dylan and 14-year-old Ian.
Shirey and Trooper Paul Wanzenreid were greeted by their detachment commander, Capt. Jeff Otis, and a throng of state troopers.
“I think there are about 15 of us here,” Trooper Matt Weberling estimated.
“Actually, I think it’s probably closer to 25 now that I think about it.”
Lt. Bill McLeod and several other Coeur d’Alene police officers turned out for Officer Shane Averitt.
The department, with about 70 officers, coped well while Averitt was away.
“We’re lucky because we only had one gone,” McLeod said. “Some other agencies might have several gone at a time.”
Martin said his office also fared well in his absence. He said Orlando – also known as the letter “E” – was hired on a temporary basis to fill in, and then he was hired permanently.
Martin will get about a month off before he returns to his civilian job.