Mike Thomas was a young captain in the summer of 1990 when he got orders to deploy to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield. After spending nine months in the Gulf, he flew home to Fort Bragg.
“Somewhere up in the air, we're just flying along, and the pilot came over the intercom and he said, 'We are entering the airspace of the United States of America,' ”said Thomas, pausing to remember that moment. “ 'Welcome home.' ”
“I think almost the entire aircraft had the same reaction. There was definitely tears, a lot of high-fiving, lot of cheering, lots of hugs from the stewardesses. It is really an overwhelming, extremely emotional event. It's one of the best feelings I've ever had in my entire life.”
Landing at Pope Air Force Base, Thomas was greeted with the cheers of hundreds who came out to meet the returning troops. He grabbed an American flag, popped up out of the hatch near the cockpit, and waved the colors in triumph as the plane taxied toward Green Ramp.
“The crowd went wild! They loved it, we loved it. It was a great feeling.”
Decades later, Thomas said he still makes it a point to go out to redeployment ceremonies.
“I might not even know one person, but it doesn't matter. It's like the sentiment is the same. It is an unbelievable, overwhelming, joyous feeling. Those memories definitely last for a lifetime.”
The Ft. Bragg Stories series is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.