- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More than 100 sailors with the Navy’s Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 209 returned to Andrews Air Force Base yesterday after flying more than 280 combat missions and racking up more than 1,460 flight hours in Iraq.

As they stepped off a white Boeing 757, the 110 sailors were greeted by cheers from friends and families who gathered on the tarmac to welcome back the crew from VAQ-209. The sailors were in Iraq for three months.

Seconds after he left the plane, William Mottem, 26, a hospital corpsman, held his 8-month-old son, Andrew, clad in a blue- and white-striped outfit.

“He’s learned to say ‘dada,’” said Andrew’s mother, Angela Mottem, 26. Andrew was only 5 months old when his father last held him.

Dressed in camouflage uniforms, the sailors stepped off the plane just before noon after a 15-hour flight from Kuwait. Sixty more sailors were set to arrive yesterday afternoon and this morning, said Cmdr. Marco Cromartie of the Naval Air Facility Washington.

“How many of you want to go home and spend time with your family?” Cmdr. Cromartie asked the sailors, and smiled when he heard applause.

“OK. Come back next week and get back to work,” he said.

The sailors were happy to return to Andrews, and none expressed fear of their duties at Al Asad Airfield in Anbar province in Iraq. Their duties included enforcing the “no-fly” zone over Iraq and detecting and destroying improvised explosive devices.

Cmdr. Cromartie said he didn’t see any fear among the sailors.

“What I see in their eyes is determination,” he said. “They did a great job.”

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