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NAS LEMOORE— While the weather was cold and rainy Thursday morning, the clouds cleared and the sun began to shine just in time for Naval Air Station Lemoore-based squadrons’ homecoming.

“It’s great to be home, it’s awesome,” said Steven Hejmanowski, commander of Carrier Air Wing Nine. “Feels really, really good.”

The VFA-41 Black Aces, VFA-14 Tophatters, VFA-97 Warhawks and VFA-151 Vigilantes returned from their recent deployment aboard USS John C. Stennis.

The 44 strike fighters departed from San Diego in early October and have been gone for the past seven months.

In that time, Hejmanowski said the air wing and squadrons had worked hard and did a phenomenal job, going all over the world several times and logging over 24,000 hours of flight time supporting combat operation in Arabian Gulf.

“These guys have performed amazingly,” he said. “Across the board, I couldn’t be more proud of this air wing and what they accomplished over the last seven months.”

While working was great, Hejmanowski said it was wonderful to be back in the United States and good to be home to see his family and children.

“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, it was a long deployment,” he said.

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Many of the aviators had children that seemed to grow up in the time they were gone, while a few even got to meet their babies for the first time.

Hejmanowski said the excitement had been building for the last several days, but it was nothing compared to the feeling of flying over and looking down to see all their families lined up in front of the hangar.

“It’s a great feeling — it really is,” the commander said.

This was Hejmanowski’s eighth deployment and homecoming, but he said he tries to be present any time there’s a fly wing or squadron coming home to welcome them back, because he knows how it is to be gone for months at a time away from family and loved ones.

“It’s really cool to watch some of that stuff, so I come out whenever I can,” he said.

Not to mention, he’s still fascinated by aircraft and will never pass up the opportunity to see the big formations come in and do fly-bys.

“There’s nothing like it,” Hejmanowski said. “I always tell people that the day I look up and it doesn’t excite me is the day I need to retire.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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