Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Homecoming sweet for Gorham woman

Published in the American Journal

Tara Rich is home. Rich, a Gorham resident and staff sergeant in the 265th Combat Communications Squadron of the Maine Air National Guard, arrived at the Portland International Jetport Monday evening after a long trip from Kuwait.

Rich, 28, was greeted by her mother Patricia, her sister Stacey Rich-Abbott, Stacey’s husband Dan Abbott and Stacey and Dan’s daughter Samantha Abbott. Family members and friends of 12 of Rich’s fellow squadron members greeted their loved ones Monday as well, on two flights into Portland.

Thirteen members of the South Portland-based squadron remain in Kuwait but hope to be home soon.

The unit was sent to Kuwait in February for a 90-day tour. When war broke out, the National Guard extended Rich’s active duty, along with everyone else in the squadron, for a year.

The delayed return was slowed further by mechanical problems on the aircraft leaving Kuwait, Rich-Abbott said. The group was originally supposed to be home Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday. The family, in fact, had planned a welcome-home party Sunday, but she wasn’t there. “We’ll just have a heck of a Fourth party,” Rich- Abbott said.

Rich had e-mailed her sister to say that the Air Force plane they were leaving Kuwait on had mechanical problems, so it turned around after takeoff and the group was forced to stay put until commercial flights could be arranged.

And though the delay was annoying, the group ended up in better conditions: The Air Force plane didn’t have any blankets, and people were sleeping on the floor, Rich-Abbott said.

The commercial flights worked out. As word passed through the waiting crowd that the first plane was on the ground, Rich’s niece Samantha said, “That’s not good enough. They have to be on the ground.”

As she came into view in the terminal, the family’s excitement built even higher. They had been in touch with Rich from time to time, through e-mail and an occasional phone call. It actually helped that the squadron was involved in communications, the family said.

And then Rich was through the door, wrapped up first in a hug from her mom, then her sister and then the rest of the family.

Rich-Abbott said it was good that Rich’s dachshund Zoe wasn’t there, because the dog is quite excitable and might not have been easy to handle in the airport waiting area, jammed with excited people.

Rich’s mother had a printout of an e-mail message in her purse listing Rich’s food requests, though she hadn’t made any specific meal requests for her arrival night.

On the list were haddock, chop suey, cabbage and broccoli. “I’m sure she’ll be wanting a big seafood fest,” Rich-Abbott said.

In a quiet moment before heading off to baggage claim, Rich looked a bit overwhelmed by all the attention and the crowd of well-wishers. “It’s really good to be home,” Rich said.

She’ll have about a month off after a debriefing session today. The first order of business? “A shower would be good,” Rich said.