- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - When she talks about life while her husband was deployed with the 187th Fighter Wing, Jessica Hatchett fights back tears.

Holding their 7-month-old daughter Olivia, Hatchett pauses and swallows before saying having Joshua Hatchett back home means “we’ve got our family.”

Airmen and aircraft from the 187th Fighter Wing returned home Monday to Dannelly Field Air National Guard Base following a three-month deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

“They’ve been in the Middle East doing their job for America and the state of Alabama … an anti-terrorism-type effort in an ongoing operation,” Col. Will Sparrow, commander of the 187th Fighter Wing said of the 200 airmen returning.

Montgomery’s 187th Fighter Wing was selected late last year after being one of the five Air National Guard sites to be considered for the new F-35 Lightning II jet - the newest, technologically advanced fighter in the nation’s military arsenal - to replace their retiring aircraft.

“They definitely heard about it,” Sparrow said. “They’re excited about that. That’s decades of future in the fighter business for all of us. That has been a real team effort in the state, also.”

A team effort is also in the home.

Jakendra Goldsmith, 6, waited for her mother, Janice Taylor, to return home.

Sitting with her grandmother, Barbara Taylor - who watched Jakendra during her mother’s second deployment in six years - Goldsmith said her mom has “been at work.

“I want to give her a present. I want to play with my Barbie dream house.”

Taylor said Janice Taylor was in Afghanistan for more than a year when Goldsmith was 7 months old.

“She’ll remember this one,” Barbara Taylor said, adding the hardest part about the past three months was the first-grader understanding her mother wasn’t coming home.

“And at bedtime, she wanted her momma when it was time to go to bed. I’m proud of (Janice Taylor). I’m just proud of her because she’s accomplished so much and she’s got this little girl that she’s raising and she’s just wonderful and I’m glad I’m here to help her.”

Lori Lee stood with her 1-month-old baby Braxton, and 19-month-old son Hudson, as her husband, Allen Lee, was one of the first to be greeted by the crowd of family and friends at the 187th.

“It’s exciting,” said Allen Lee. “I’m ready to all be home together.”

But first things first.

“I told him the first thing he gets to do is watch Hudson while I take a nap,” said Lori Lee.

Rachel Bowen also waited for her husband, with their two children Abigail, 21 months, and Arianna 4.

“My little girl was diagnosed with cancer last year,” she said of Abigail, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on Dec. 20, 2016, and who remained in treatment for much of last year while the rest of the family stayed home in Luverne.

“We haven’t see each other pretty much this year,” Bowen said. Abigail “is great. She’s in remission. It is the best possible outcome we could possibly have.”

For the Hatchetts, Jessica lets the tears fall as she talks about what her husband has missed the past three months: Christmas, his birthday, their daughter is sitting up now and trying to crawl.

“It’s just great to have him home,” she said. Olivia “will see him every day. She’ll know him. I think what I worry about most is that she’s not going to realize who he is, so … hopefully with him being home, if there’s any of that, it’ll pass quickly.”

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