Mary Boe’s eyes told the whole story.
As more than 100 airmen from the Air Force’s 301st Fighter Wing came down the stairs after a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, she scanned the crowd for her husband, Senior Airman Matthew Boe.
Amid families holding up banners and hoisting children onto their shoulders, Mary kept looking. Suddenly, her expression changed and the tears streamed down her face.
She had spotted Matthew, but he didn’t see her — he thought she was still back in their hometown of Panama City, Fla.
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“I was looking for the guys,” Matthew Boe told her. “I wasn’t looking for you. I walked right past you.”
He had just got home after six months at Bagram Airfield, working as an F-16 egress technician, which deals with the canopy, ejection seat and other survival equipment associated with the aircraft. Now he is coming back home to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth.
But the surprises weren’t over. While still hugging his wife and talking to friends, Matthew Boe spotted his mother, Sandra Thornton, hiding toward the back.
When she realized she had been spotted, Thornton let out a shriek of joy and rushed to hug her son.
“I had talked to her today and she fudged the truth,” Matthew Boe said. “They do this to me all of the time. It was probably her idea, but it was definitely a good surprise.”
He couldn’t discuss his experiences in Afghanistan, but his mother, herself a veteran, said she knew that the airmen faced some dangerous moments.
“He would say, ‘You can guess what’s going on but I can’t talk about it,’ ” Thornton said. “But that was OK. That was enough. I just wanted to let him know I was there for him.”
The 301 Fighter Wing was the only dedicated fighter squadron in Afghanistan, providing air support throughout the country as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which aims to maintain security and stability in the region. The deployment included both reservists and active duty personnel.
He said it was hard to describe his experience in Afghanistan, but he had no trouble describing what it meant to be home.
“Pure elation,” Matthew Boe said. “There’s no better place.”