Families welcome home National Guard members from Mideast

Three members of the Bearden family were sweltering on the tarmac Tuesday, waiting to see Senior Master Sgt. Shawn Bearden emerge from the doors of a C-130H2 cargo plane.

The last time Bearden was with his wife and two children was about four months ago, and he when he left, he told them to “finish strong.”

“It meant that my job was to make sure our kids are taken care of, and we stay strong as a family unit,” Heidi Bearden said, referring to daughter Sydney, 7, and son T.J., 16.

They did, but were more than ready to welcome Dad back as Shawn Bearden and about 35 other members of the 136th Airlift Wing of the Texas Air National Guard returned from deployment in Afghanistan.

“We’ve been gone and they’ve been here, and we’ve got to ease back into their lives,” Shawn Bearden said immediately after greeting his family at Naval Air Station Fort Worth.

About 40 members of the unit arrived earlier on commercial flights that landed at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, said Lt. James Burgess, deployment officer for the 136th. Another 25 members remain deployed as expeditionary combat support missions, he said.

The unit went overseas on Feb. 26. The citizen-soldier air crew, support and maintenance technicians — who were replaced by an active-duty Air Force component — will get the next 30 days or so off before returning to their civilian jobs.

They shouldn’t have to deploy again for at least 18 months, Burgess said.

For Shawn Bearden, this was not his first overseas deployment and, with 15 more years to serve, it likely won’t be his last. Many of Bearden’s fellow airmen have been deployed 10 times since 9/11.

This time, Bearden missed Sydney’s seventh birthday and a spring break trip to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. Son T.J. is now a working man, having scored a summer job in landscaping.

Shawn Bearden, a quality assurance expert for the Texas Air National Guard, is looking forward to settling back into a 9-to-5 routine and catching up with his family. That, he said, will take time for everyone who was reunited with their families Tuesday.

“There are some type-A personalities who want to take control right away, but you can’t do that,” he said.

In its deployments as an Aerospace Expeditionary Force, the 136th Airlift Wing has flown more than 10,000 combat hours delivering cargo, transporting personnel and evacuating wounded and sick soldiers from Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, said Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert.

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