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'It's surreal' | 180th Fighter Wing airmen return home after Middle East deployment

Roughly 300 airmen with the Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing reunited with their families Tuesday following their deployment to Afghanistan.

SWANTON, Ohio — They say home is where the heart is. On Tuesday, that was Toledo Express Airport.

"You know that Christmas morning feeling? When you wake up and Santa's there? That's kind of what this feels like. That's how I explain it," SrA. Jacob Siebenaler with the 180th Fighter Wing said. 

"Stepping off that plane was just relieving," SSgt. Katelyn Mohler added. "Like, finally, I'm here. This is what I was thinking about the whole time I was gone."

Roughly 300 airmen with the Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing reunited with their families. They were deployed in Afghanistan, some for a few months, others for much longer.

RELATED: Members of 180th Fighter Wing to depart for overseas deployment

Deployment is a challenge for these service members and their loved ones.

"We ensure that our families are resilient," Ohio Adjutant General Maj. Gen. John Harris said. "We put on camps for our kids, we put on marriage enrichment seminars because these experiences require more from a National Guard family."

Credit: WTOL
Credit: WTOL

This deployment was scheduled well in advance, but it's far from the only job the National Guard has been tasked with in the last year.

"We knew it was going to be busy," said Col. Michael DiDio, commander of the 180th Fighter Wing. "What we didn't expect is the pandemic to hit on top of it. That taxed the system, but as always, our airmen rose to the occasion and made it happen."

Now back on U.S. soil and heading home, priorities have shifted... in a good way.

"I'm going to go drop my bags off and then I'm going to Chipotle," TSgt. Charles DeRaedt said with a laugh.

Make it a burrito bowl, with an extra side of service.

UPDATE: And, TSgt. DeRaedt is getting that extra side of service.

Chipotle tossed a "Like" at WTOL 11 reporter Tyler Paley's Tweet the night this story aired, and followed up big time with a year of free burritos for the airman. 

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