Nicholas Meyer’s plan backfired.
The 26-year-old staff sergeant from Patchogue completed a three-day long trip home from Afghanistan Friday with 12 other members of the Westhampton Beach-based 106th Air National Guard Rescue Wing and planned on surprising his parents with his return.
Instead, Meyer’s parents were among the more than 100 people who lined the MacArthur Airport terminal waving American flags and holding up signs welcoming home the troops from a six-month deployment, in which they secured large bases in Afghanistan.
“This is a definitely a first,” said Meyer, who has been deployed four times, of the patriotic scene at the airport. “I’ve never gotten a welcome home like this.”
US Airways Flight 2149 from Philadelphia—the final leg of trip that had stopovers in Kurdistan, Germany and Baltimore—was delayed about an hour on its arrival into MacArthur due to mechanical troubles, but that certainly wasn’t going to stop the “Hometown Hero” Welcome, a program spearheaded in 2009 by Islip Deputy Supervisor , a decorated Vietnam-era Marine.
John and Camille Occhineri came up from Monroe, North Carolina, to welcome back their son, Senior Airman Joseph Occhineri.
“He doesn’t even know we are here,” said John Occhineri, getting choked up over the thought of seeing his son walk off the plane. “We are definitely proud of him.”
Joseph Occhineri, 36, of Medford, said he was “totally shocked” to see his parents when the plane finally touched down at MacArthur. Once that shock wears off, though, Occhineri said he knew exactly what he was going to do, “Go home, shower, relax, spend time with my family.”
Each returning member of the 106th Rescue Wing, the oldest unit in the Air National Guard, received a Town of Islip citation at the airport before they quickly scattered into the arms of loved ones.
“Always remember, because of them, our lives are free,” said Tom Bergin, Suffolk County commander of the American Legion, during the presentation. “Because of them, this country lives and because of them, the world has been blessed with their service. “
Staff Sgt. Eric Miller is the visual information manager for the 106th Rescue Wing, which is headquartered at Frances S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base. Miller was on hand Friday afternoon to record the homecoming of his fellow soldiers.
“Not every member gets this when they come home,” Miller said. “You fly into bigger airports or you fly into our F.S. Gabreski Airport and you’re pretty much getting in your car and going home so this is really nice.”
Now that they are home, it’s almost a guarantee the soldiers will rest well tonight.
“I haven’t slept in the last 6 or 7 months,” Meyer said. “I just want to sleep.”
And when he wakes up?
A well-deserved trip to McDonald’s may be on the agenda.
The returning members of the 106th Rescue Wing:
- Master Sgt. Gary Calhoun
- Technical Sgt. Kathleen Shephard
- Technical Sgt. Jesse Tellinghuisen
- Staff Sgt. Joshua Johnson
- Staff Sgt. Nicholas Meyer
- Senior Airman Sarah Ashraf
- Senior Airman Ross Bottwinick
- Airman First Class Carlos Buitrago
- Airman First Class Devon Holmes
- Senior Airman Tara Langella
- Senior Airman Robert Marigliano
- Senior Airman George Liandrakis
- Senior Airman Joseph Occhineri