Even the weather cooperated Saturday afternoon, joining the warmth of the homecoming welcome from residents of Clovis and Portales for military troops from Cannon Air Force Base and other branches of the armed services.
The day’s celebration began with a military parade along Main Street, with about 1,000 men and women from Cannon marching in formation and riding in vehicles as children and adults threw red, white and blue confetti in the air. Large yellow ribbons were tied in bows around lamposts, trees, street signs and nearly every pole along the street.
“It was huge to have so many members of the military marching down Main Street,” said Ernie Kos, executive director of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce, which helped organize the homecoming event.
Penny McDaniel, who served nearly 10 years as a staff sergeant in the Air Force, and her husband, Tech Sgt. Lonnie McDaniel, who has served for 16 years, brought their three children to the parade.
“This is great for the troops,” Penny McDaniel said. “It shows people still love you. I know it’s got to make the guys feel good to see that.”
Several of Cannon’s units color-coordinated their vehicles to match their squadron’s colors: the 522nd Fighter Squadron’s “Fireballs” marched with bright red cars and trucks; and most of the 523rd Fighter Squadron’s “Crusaders” drove blue vehicles.
And then there was the 1979 Cadillac Sedan DeVille driven by members of the 523rd Fighter Squadron that was obviously spray-painted with a blue top, gray bottom and an F-16-like tail to try to make the car look like a jet.
“One of our buddies bought it and donated it to the squadron and we painted it ourselves,” said Lt. Kyle Wallace, a pilot with the Crusaders. “The parade and the homecoming are awesome. It’s been fun.”
Following the parade, the park surrounding the northwest end of Greene Acres Lake turned into an afternoon of fun, food and a festival-like atmosphere with music, games and recognition for military troops.
Senior Airman Chris Reynolds, who has been stationed at Cannon for more than four years, said the day held special meaning for base personnel and their families.
“They were thrilled the community had this for them,” Reynolds said. “This is bigger than what I had on other bases. The support in the Clovis area is just a lot bigger and a lot more patriotic than most have seen.”
Casey Davidson, who works with the Cannon Enlisted Spouses Club, said she knows first-hand what troops and their families went through during the deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
She and her husband, Airman 1st Class Chris Davidson, a crew chief with the 524th Fighter Squadron at Cannon, got married a year ago. In November, he left for a six-month deployment to Iraq.
“This homecoming event is as much of a tribute to us as spouses as it is to them,” Casey Davidson said.
For her husband, the actual homecoming — the day he saw his wife again on May 7 — “was wonderful. It was the greatest thing besides our marriage.”
Col. “Rowdy” Yates, commander of the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon, thanked local residents, saying, “nobody in the United States throws a party like the Clovis-Portales metroplex.
“To say we’re thankful from the bottom of our hearts is an understatement,” Yates said. “We are overwhelmed.”