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A mother of two, Sarah Bredthauer beamed as her sons, husband and parents joined other military families Saturday to welcome back Bredthauer and her fellow Air National Guard members from overseas deployments.

The Nebraska Air Guard, which is the second-oldest Air National Guard unit in the nation, invited family, friends and National Guard members to thank the more than 350 troops who had been deployed in the past year to Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations around the world.

It was the largest number of troops deployed from the 155th Air Refueling Wing in more than a decade, according to Nebraska National Guard spokesman Col. Kevin Hynes.

The success and achievement of the troops wouldn't have been possible without the support and sacrifice of military family members, Hynes said.

"We want to take this as an opportunity to thank the members for their service and their families for the support while the members were deployed,” Hynes said.

Cyndee Thompson said Saturday's welcome home was not only a reminder to thank family members, but also a reminder of how much family members appreciate the troops for their service.

“I think this is an amazing, beautiful ceremony," she said. "I’m glad they did it, because we need to let our servicemen and women know that they’re appreciated now and while they were gone. We appreciate what they do."

Family sacrifice

For the 350 troops honored Saturday, the months spent overseas meant many missed birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. Their absence on those days takes an emotional toll on military families, Bredthauer said.

"I think that just brings guilt to the members who are deployed, when they are not there to help with normal day-to-day duties but also during special occasions," Bredthauer said. "This is a huge emotional burden."

But the gratification of having a family member serve the country often trumps the challenges.

“It’s such a feeling of pride,” said Bredthauer's mother, Patty Harms. "We’re proud of all of them. When you’ve got loved ones over there, it just takes you to another level."

Teamwork key 

During Saturday's celebration, the Air Guard also honored three members who received Bronze Stars, given to recognize leadership, service and courage while working in a dangerous area. 

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The recipients were Lt. Col. Barry Veen, Major Ryan Watson and Master Sgt. Thomas Thompson.

All three were deployed to Bagram Airfield, which is the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

Thompson said the teams as a whole were key to the success of their missions. 

“I appreciate the award very much, but again, I can’t stress enough that the reason why I have this is because of the fantastic team I was deployed with," Thompson said. "They made my job almost effortless. I would go anywhere, any time, any place with them."

New beginning

The Guard also held a ribbon cutting to officially mark the reopening of the 155th Air Refueling Wing's renovated headquarters.

The building, built in the 1990s, was renovated to improve its infrastructure, technology and energy efficiency, according to Veen. 

Construction, which was completed last month after almost two years, cost $8.3 million.

The new headquarters now house the unit's executive leadership officers, as well as having more spaces for personnel and administration specialists.

Rain doesn't hurt anybody

The families didn't let Saturday's rain dampen the event, as they enjoyed food, outdoor games and watched Nebraska take on Colorado in football. Guard members also used the time to catch up with colleagues and friends.

And while the day brought a feeling of pride for many family members, it also brought a feeling of relief.

“I’m just glad to have him home," Cyndee Thompson said. "I’m proud of him, but I’m glad he’s home.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or mazizah@journalstar.com. On Twitter @mia_azizah11

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