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WELCOME HOME Troops Greeted With Love, Hugs
0731 Eggers
Helicopter pilot and Escalon resident Lucas Eggers of the California Army National Guard is all smiles as he is greeted by wife Jenny and daughter Elizabeth, 2. ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Times

Captain Ben Bowman was all smiles as loved ones welcomed him home with hugs and kisses.

But the commander of the Army National Guard helicopter unit out of Stockton – Company B, 1-126th Aviation GSAB – was singularly happy that everyone in his unit came home in one piece from their year’s deployment in Afghanistan.

“He’s very proud of the fact that everybody (in his unit) came home safe,” said Dan Bowman, the commander’s smiling father, one of the scores of excited loved ones at the Stockton Metro Airport Tuesday, July 23 to welcome the 180 returning American soldiers from Afghanistan.

“We’re just happy to have him back. We are just excited,” the captain’s sister, Bonnie Niessen, said as she took pictures of her brother, his fiancée Lisa Beyer, and several other members of their extended family next to the Southwest Airlines airplane that brought the soldiers home.

Captain Bowman said this was his second deployment overseas but does not expect to be deployed again anytime soon. He has been in the Army National Guard for nine years. He works at the Stockton Army Aviation Support Family near the Stockton Metro Airport as an instructor pilot and instrument examiner. He and his fiancée are getting married in September.

The Bowman family reunion was one of many that took place at the Stockton airport.

CW4 helicopter pilot Lucas Eggers of Escalon was a happy and proud husband and father as he greeted wife Jenny and their daughter Elizabeth. The two-year-old enjoyed the view of happily reunited families perched on her father’s shoulders as she proudly waved a miniature American flag. Wife Jenny said this was her husband’s fifth deployment in his 13 years in the service. In addition to being deployed in Afghanistan, pilot Eggers has also served in Iraq.

Greeting CW2 Army pilot Aaron Mello was a poster that reminded him how much he was missed by his wife Tiffany. One side of the white poster board with red and blue stars that she made said it all: “338 days; 11 months, 4 days; 486,720 hours; 29,203,200 seconds; Worth the wait.”

Specialist and crew chief Kyle Reeves was greeted not just by his 3-year-old son Alexander but four generations of his family. His perky and sprite great-grandmother, 94-year-old Mary Medeiros, was there proudly waving a welcome poster sign, along with his grandmother Lu Stone, brother Tanner, aunt Nikky Stone, cousin Alizia and other extended-family members.

This was Reeves’ first deployment overseas. One of his immediate plans, he said, was to go back to school and complete his studies in criminal justice. He was previously a student at California State University, Stanislaus but plans to continue his studies online. Before that, though, he would like to “go to the store and buy a nice pair of shoes and civilian clothes,” he said with a big grin.

‘I’ve been wearing combat boots for the last year.”

The Stockton-based Army National Guard Bravo Company 1-126th Aviation Regiment flew support missions for “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan.

The regiment, the largest National Guard CH-47 Chinook unit in the contiguous United States, is part of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade. It is one of the oldest Chinook helicopter units in the Army, having been formed in Stockton in the 1940s as the 49th Aviation Company.