Tears dropped to the Casper airport carpet from nearly every eye. Nearly in unison, the group rose to their toes each time a passenger walked through the terminal. The anticipation of their heroes’ homecoming hung in the air like a fog. Waves of strangers stepped off the plane before the troops – all with direct links to Douglas – finally appeared.
The tears, hugs, smiles and laughter exploded onto the emotional scene in the Natrona County International Airport lobby.
Four members of the Army National Guard Alpha Battery 2/300th Field Artillery Unit – Sergeant Bailey Bohannon of Douglas, Specialist Felicity Jones of Douglas, Sergeant Dustin Bohannon of Casper and Corporal Tyler Stovall of Casper – were welcomed by open arms and wet faces as they came home from Bagram, Afghanistan after nearly a year away from their families.
Amanda Bohannon, Bailey’s mother, had been counting the days since her little girl left – 317.
“The only thing I’ve been able to think all day is that my baby girl is coming home, and my hero is coming home,” Amanda said just before her tearful reunion with Bailey.
Bohannon left the U.S. with her half-brother Dustin Bohannon, but came back with two more siblings – Stoll and Jones.
“I feel that we’re closer than sisters,” Jones said about Bailey, “We definitely have a bond that not many people have.”
Bailey mentioned that she and Jones went through a lot of hardships in Afghanistan.
“There was a lot of uncertainty over there,” she said. “We never really knew what was going to happen. It was a gamble every single day.”
Tonya Pantuso, Dustin’s mom, has an especially close relationship with her son.
“I got pregnant when I was 17, and I raised him pretty much by myself. It’s always been just me and Dustin. We work together. We’re just really, really close.”
Dustin said that it was emotionally overwhelming seeing his family after come back from overseas.
“It’s stressful man,” he said, “but being home and seeing my mom, it’s worth it.”
Nancy Nira, Jones’s mom, talked about her overwhelming pride for her daughter.
“She left a little insecure little girl, but now she’s back a stronger more developed woman. She can tackle any challenge now,” she said.
“She grew up on me,” Nira added with tears of joy in her eyes.
Almost all friends and family of the troops have the same plans with their beloved soldiers – to spend as much time with them as possible.
“It’s going to be a tough transition for them,” Amanda said. “So we’ll just help them through that and enjoy the time together.”
Bailey said the transition from soldier life to citizen life will be difficult, but she was glad she had Jones and Dustin to help her through it.
“It’s going to take some time,” Jones said, “but we have each other, and that’s all that matters.”
Bailey has applied to the University of Wyoming and plans to major in business, although her long-term goal is to become a chief in her unit when she is deployed again. She isn’t sure when but is eager to return.
Jones also plans to attend UW to work on a business degree. Dustin works as a mechanic at Globalized Specialized Services in Casper beside his mother. Stoll plans to marry his sweetheart, Delaney Powell.
“I’m just so ready to give him a hug and welcome him home. I’m super excited,” Powell said just before her reunion with her fiance.
“It is unbelievable to come home and see family,” Bailey said with a grin. “We never thought this day would come. Now that it’s here, we’re going to take it all in.”