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UPDATE: Last homecoming for last Vietnam Vet in unit -- Thirty-six Airmen from the Delaware Air National Guard to return home from Afghanistan Thursday May 19 after a three-month tour of duty

Release Number: 040511

A homecoming for a contingent of 36 Airmen of the Delaware Air National Guard from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan will occur May 19 at New Castle Airport when the Airmen arrive home aboard a unit C-130 Hercules transport aircraft used to conduct combat missions in Afghanistan.

This will be the first return of Delaware ANG Airmen from Afghanistan since six aircraft and about 160 Airmen departed in February, and the first return of unit forces since U.S. military special forces killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, at an al Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1.

166th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Jonathan H. Groff said, "We anticipate the homecoming this week for this first group of deployed Airmen-warriors, and remain grateful for their faithful service and for the faithful service rendered by the many hundreds of unit Airmen who have deployed to Southwest Asia since our initial deployments to Afghanistan began in October, 2001."

About 125 of the unit's maintenance and operations Airmen remain on duty in Afghanistan as they continue to fly and maintain the unit's several C-130 aircraft still engaged in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and will return home sometime next month. Several dozen unit Airmen from other Delaware ANG units are also on duty in Southwest Asia.

News media are invited, but are asked to call ahead. Media should arrive as early as 10:30 a.m., but no later than 11:00 a.m. Media must carry proper identification and will be credentialed at the main gate, 2600 Spruance Drive, New Castle, DE 19720. Media should enter the base from Commons Boulevard and follow the signs for "Delaware Air National Guard."

The Delaware ANG has 1,100 members, and continually deploys personnel and subordinate units around the globe. This release is in the public domain, and any part may be used as written.

UPDATE: History in the making -- Master Sgt. Jerry Virden, a resident of Newark, Delaware, from the 166th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Delaware Air National Guard, and the last serving Vietnam War Veteran in the Delaware Air National Guard, will be aboard the unit C-130 aircraft coming home May 19 from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, to New Castle Airport, Delaware. Sergeant Virden is a C-130 crew chief, and an aircraft turboprop mechanic.

Master Sgt. Virden served in the U.S. Navy in Fleet Air Support Unit (FASU) Da Nang, South Vietnam, in 1972, working in the hydraulic shop on the U.S. Navy's C-1 cargo aircraft (Grumman C-1 Trader) flying high priority parts, personnel and mail from mainland Vietnam to the Navy carriers on Yankee Station (off North Vietnam). Master Sgt. Virden's squadron in Vietnam was VRC-50, Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Fifty, a Navy Transport Squadron. He will retire later in 2011.

Sources: http://www.vrc-50.org/danang.htm. Navy history source: http://www.history.navy.mil/ac/vietnam/vietnam1.htm.

Two most recent retirees from the Delaware Air National Guard who are Vietnam War veterans:

Retired Spring 2010: Master Sgt. Ralph Miller, from the 166th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Delaware Air National Guard, who lives in Delaware County, Pa., completed his final overseas deployment to Afghanistan October 2009. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam.

Retired December 2009: Colonel Chuck Gebhart, past commander of the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Delaware Air National Guard. He served in Desert Storm in 1990, and recently in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He served in the Air Force in Vietnam.

Delaware Air National Guard: Celebrating 65 years of Citizen-Airman service to our state and nation, 1946-2011.

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