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Ceremony pays tribute to Airmen, local community

Northeast Air Defense Sector Security Force Airmen walk through a sea of American flags held by the Patriot Riders, a local group who supports veterans, May 2. The sector held a welcome home ceremony honoring the 30 Airmen who deployed to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan for six months (Photo by Master Sgt. David Bishop).

Northeast Air Defense Sector Security Force Airmen walk through a sea of American flags held by the Patriot Riders, a local group who supports veterans, May 2. The sector held a welcome home ceremony honoring the 30 Airmen who deployed to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan for six months (Photo by Master Sgt. David Bishop).

ROME, N.Y. -- Welcome home.

Those two emotion-filled words echoed throughout the auditorium May 2 as 30 members of the Northeast Air Defense Sector's security forces were formally united with their family, friends and coworkers after a six-month deployment to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan.

As the returning security force members entered the ceremony through a flag-lined path, manned by the veteran's support organization Patriot Riders, they were greeted by cheers and wishes of thanks for their service to the nation.

During the past six months, security force members were part of the 376 Air Expeditionary Wing at Manas Air Base. While deployed, the NEADS members joined a diverse international team at the base including service members from Australia, France, Netherlands, Germany, Afghanistan, Canada, South Korea, and Spain.

Based on their active support abroad in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the 30 returning Airmen were awarded the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Each Airman was presented their award by Col. John Bartholf, commander of NEADS.

"It is a tremendous honor for me to present these awards to each of you," Colonel Bartholf reflected. "I know the sacrifices you and your families have made and how difficult it has been during the last six months. We are all very proud of you and your contributions to defending our country and her allies."

This was not only a time to welcome home the Airmen - the unit expressed their thanks to the community members and organizations that supported the security force members and their families throughout the deployment. During the ceremony, plaques of recognition were presented to representatives from O'Brien & Gere, The America Legion, Adirondack Bank, Strough Middle School, Embroiders Guild of America and New York State Family Readiness. In addition, Lynette Bartholf and Merry Speicher were honored for their contributions to the NEADS Family Support Center.

While the Central New York community banded together to support the deployment, the NEADS security force members in Kyrgyzstan volunteered their time and energy to make a positive difference in the area surrounding Manas Air Base.

During their tour of duty in the former Soviet republic, the Airmen delivered food and blankets to the elderly, purchased three tons of coal to heat the local nursery school, repaired 22 computers for the village school, and raised money to purchase a water supply pump and a power transformer.