• Click here to watch a photo slideshow of the Nebraska National Guard units' return home.
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LINCOLN — With her arms wrapped tight around her soldier-husband, Andrea Vaughn said she could finally breathe.
“I've had such a hard time breathing all morning,” Vaughn said. “It's wonderful to finally have him safe at home.”
Staff Sgt. Greg Vaughn of Fremont wore a grin from ear to ear Thursday as he stepped off a bus into the arms of Andrea, his five children and seven grandchildren.
He was one of 11 members of Agribusiness Development Team No. 3 who came home from a deployment to Afghanistan.
The sergeant's 10-year-old son, Jacob, wore his dad's helmet and a wide grin. Andrea Vaughn said the boy can't wait to visit outdoor recreation stores for supplies.
“That's right,” Sgt. Vaughn said. “We have a lot of fishing and hunting to do.”
Another Nebraska Army National Guard unit, a half-dozen members of the 43rd Operational Support Airlift Detachment who formerly were stationed in Afghanistan, also celebrated with their families in front of the Nebraska Guard's Joint Force Headquarters building.
Inside, Gov. Dave Heineman and other dignitaries showered the soldiers with praise and gave thanks for their safe return.
Lt. Col. Will Prusia commanded ADT No. 3 as the unit helped Afghan officials and local farmers redevelop agricultural skills and infrastructure during an 11-month deployment to Paktia Province.
Prusia came home early after breaking a foot and was replaced by Maj. Dave Cooper.
“The local farmers and elders were receptive and very appreciative of the knowledge we could share,” Prusia said. “It was a challenging mission but rewarding.”
The ag unit brought in experts in soil, environment and watersheds as well as veterinarians and agronomists to work with local farmers. Prusia said wheat is the dominate crop in the province, but beans and orchards are also plentiful.
Chief Warrant Officer Waylon Petsche of Norfolk, who had previously been deployed to Iraq, said it was nice to get “outside the wire” and work directly with Afghan farmers.
“It's still mostly subsistence farming, but there are getting to be some row crops,” Petsche said. “It will be up to them now to take the information we gave them and continue to build on it.”
Petsche, whose welcome committee included his wife, Julie, and mother, Evelyn Petsche, said he plans to enjoy time with his family during his first days back. He's looking forward to the annual St. Patrick's Day Fun Run in O'Neill and playing some golf.
“It's nice to be back and get a little better scenery, a little more grass,” Petsche said.
The members of the airlift detachment were involved in a number of aviation-related missions during their nearly nine-month deployment.
Chief Warrant Officer Gene Coppersmith said the 43rd logged 3,800 hours in the air, providing ground troops with intelligence about enemy movements and possible improvised explosive devices.
“Back home, we would put in about 110 hours a year flying,” Coppersmith said. “So, basically, we got in six years of flying in nine months. If any (family members) missed some emails or phone calls, I'm sorry, but they were busy.”
Coppersmith, who is from Grant, said he was most grateful for seeing the six fliers get safely home to their wives and children. He noted that two of the men were coming home to children born while they were away.
“All Nebraskans should be proud of these citizen-soldiers sent to Afghanistan,” Coppersmith said. “They performed their duties in the best Nebraska tradition.”
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