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Arriving on bended knee As 107th Airlift Wing returns from the war, a surprise proposal

Plenty of "Welcome Home" signs greeted members of the New York Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing returning Monday from Afghanistan.

But a different kind of sign stole the show -- and a woman's heart.

After stepping off the bus that had ferried them from the tarmac at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, where they arrived aboard a C-130 Hercules transport plane, two airmen unfurled a green bedsheet on which "Will you marry me?" was written in black spray paint.

Seconds later, Master Sgt. Vincent Kalota of North Tonawanda approached his girlfriend and, on bended knee, presented a ring.

Deanna Hahn's answer couldn't be heard, but after the two embraced, Kalota turned back toward the bus and signaled with a thumbs-up.

The plan was months in the making and was jeopardized when the ring briefly went missing in the mail, Kalota said. There's no immediate word on wedding plans for the couple, who have been dating for about four years.

"That's up to her," said Kalota, an aircraft mechanic. "My job is done."

Monday's return of about 40 air crew and maintenance personnel marked the end of a three-month deployment to Afghanistan. There, they teamed up with the Alaska Air National Guard, flying numerous missions to deliver supplies and personnel to various locations in the war zone.

Dozens of relatives and friends awaited their return in a grassy area near the tarmac. The airfield also was hosting several planes that were relocated from their home bases because of Hurricane Irene.

The crowd started gathering at about 10 a.m.; a 10:40 a.m. arrival was anticipated for the Guard members, who had spent the night in Newfoundland.

"Waiting is hard," Judy Castiglia said as she watched the activity on the tarmac through a chain-link fence. She was awaiting the return of her son, Dave, a technical sergeant with the 107th.

She knows about waiting. Her husband, Dennis, was a master sergeant with the 107th, retiring just a few years ago; father and son had been on some deployments together.

The couple waited with their daughter-in-law, Stephanie, and grandsons Dylan and Jake.

Stephanie Castiglia said she kept in contact with her husband through weekly video calls on the Internet.

"He didn't talk about the mission," she said. "[He] just wanted to know what was going on at home."

Though the Grand Island resident has been with the Guard for several years, it was his first deployment since becoming a father. As Dylan, 3, and Jake, 2, clad in Superman capes, fidgeted with a sign welcoming their father home, their mother said: "As they think, Daddy went away to get the bad guys."

After a false alarm because of another incoming flight, the C-130 announced its arrival with a flyover directly above the crowd. On top of the plane as it taxied to a stop was an open hatch, with an airman waving an American flag.

The wait was over.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com