The first Kansas National Guard members to return from the Persian Gulf are scheduled to arrive home next Thursday, Gov. Joan Finney announced Wednesday.
And some of those members of the 190th Air Refueling Group are from Lawrence. The unit, which refuels airplanes that are in flight, is based at Forbes Field in Topeka.
Finney and Adjutant Gen. James Rueger said Defense Department officials told them that about 300 guard members are scheduled to reach Forbes Field, south of Topeka, at 3 p.m. next Thursday.
Joy Mosier, public affairs officer for the Kansas Army National Guard, said she couldn't release specific numbers or names of the returning guardsmen, but said this morning, "If they're in the 190th, they're coming home."
Some Lawrence families already have heard their relatives in the gulf are coming home next week.
KRIS LARSON, a Kansas University senior and member of the 190th Air Refueling Group, left for the Persian Gulf in December. His wife, Susan Larson, said he called Wednesday night to tell her he'd be coming home.
"We didn't know when he'd be back, but we didn't expect it to be so soon," she said. "It's a nice surprise. I'm real happy that he'll be back."
Kris Larson told her all the planes returning to Topeka will fly into Forbes Field in formation, and Susan Larson said she'd be there waiting for him.
Another Lawrence resident, Steve Klopfenstein, was called up for active duty with the 190th Air Refueling Group in the Persian Gulf on Aug. 3. He returned to Kansas for about a month in December and then headed back to join his unit in the gulf.
A friend of his family, Marie Robinson, said she and Klopfenstein's father, Bob Klopfenstein, this morning contacted the unit in the gulf and were told that Steve Klopfenstein would be on a plane home next week.
"It's going to be wonderful," she said. "We're real excited."
RUEGER said he and other military officials will meet Friday to plan a celebration to mark their return. There are about 16,000 Kansans stationed in the Middle East.
Several Lawrence organizations also are considering special ways to welcome home the servicemen and servicewomen.
Jo Byers, director of the American Red Cross Blood Center in Lawrence, said a Red Cross support group for spouses of troops in the Persian Gulf will meet tonight to decide if members want to plan a special homecoming for the 190th Air Refueling Group.
Also, United Veterans of Lawrence, made up of a number of Lawrence veterans organizations, will sponsor an "old-fashioned July Fourth parade with the theme of welcome home to gulf and Vietnam veterans," said spokesman Tom Berger.
He said members haven't yet planned any other special activities, but stressed that they will stand behind any events planned by the state to honor the returning troops.