Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After Aiding In Defeat Of ISIS Caliphate, Utah Service Members Return Home

Photo of Erin Mcanlay.
Rebecca Ellis / KUER
Erin Mcanlay awaits the arrival of her husband, Master Sgt Jacques Mcanlay, with a handmade sign. The Mcanlays got married in September, just three weeks before members of the 729th Air Control Squadron left for the Middle East.

After a nearly seven-month long mission in the Middle East, 128 deployed service members have returned home, touching down at the Hill Air Force Base Monday morning.

The 729th Air Control Squadron had been tasked with providing round-the-clock battle management, coordinating multiple aircrafts flying into the same area for combat. The group was charged with surveilling 1.1 million square miles of airspace.

“Our airmen provide that order to chaos,” said the squadron’s commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Digsby. “We’re happy to welcome them home today.”

John Bartoli, the commander of the Air Control Group that oversees the squadron, said the unit functioned like players in a high-stakes chess game.

“The 729th are the hands that move those chess pieces around in real time to make sure that — with the most recent intelligence that we have — we can do what needs to be done to advance the mission.”

According to Bartoli, the members undertook multiple operations during their deployment, including aiding in the effort to destroy Syria’s ISIS caliphate.

Caliphates, he explained, survive by taking and maintaining territory. By coordinating with forces on the ground, Bartoli said this squadron became a major contributor to the multinational effort that has “nibbled away and pounded away” at their territory.

Overall, Bartoli said, “they really crushed it.”

But, back home in Utah, Erin Mcanlay said it could be a struggle. Mcanlay had married her husband Jacques, a Master Sgt. with the squadron, in September. Three weeks later, he was deployed.

Her first year as a newlywed, she said, has involved “a lot of missing.”

“It gets easier at times, and then, all of a sudden, it just smacks you,” she said. “It’s just been a long six months.”

After video chatting every day, Mcanlay said she was ready to have her husband back in the same time zone.

Rebecca Ellis is a Kroc Fellow with NPR. She grew up in New York City and graduated from Brown University in 2018 with a Bachelor's in Urban Studies. In college, Rebecca served as a managing editor at the student newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, and freelanced for Rhode Island's primary paper, the Providence Journal. She has spent past summers as an investigator at the Bronx Defenders, a public defender's office in the Bronx, New York, and as a reporter at the Miami Herald, filing general assignment stories and learning to scuba dive.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.