The sight of a tree can be beautiful, especially if all you have seen for months is sand and sky.
"Kansas is beautiful, the trees, the grass, all the colors, " said Steve Olinghouse, a pilot and senior navigator with the 190th Air Refueling Group of the Kansas National Guard.
Olinghouse, 36, returned to his Lawrence home Thursday from the Persian Gulf. He had been stationed overseas since late December, after an earlier stint starting in August.
One of Olinghouse's roommates, Brent Johnson, a captain and pilot in the 190th, also came home Thursday after flying hundreds of missions over the sands of Saudi Arabia.
Johnson, 28, said the image of the Saudi Arabian terrain as the "flowing sand dunes" pictured in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" is not completely inaccurate. But Johnson said he saw those beautiful dunes in only a few places.
"IT DOES have some of that, but mostly it's like real gritty sand and dirty, with a lot of rock," he said. "It's so nice to see trees and green."
"Kansas looks beautiful," he said.
Johnson, Olinghouse and John Roth of Lenexa, a boom operator with the 190th, who was visting the other two men in Lawrence on Saturday to watch basketball on television, said adjusting to Central Standard Time after living in a time zone nine hours ahead has been difficult.
"I've been acting like a zombie," Johnson said. "Yesterday I got up at 4 a.m. I'm trying to get back on the right clock."
The three men said they were thrilled to see the crowd that greeted them Thursday at Forbes Field in Topeka. Among about 10,000 people there were relatives of each man, along with a cold beer.
"It was very emotional," Olinghouse said. "First, to be coming home; second, to be coming home from an ordeal like that. It makes you appreciate being home."
THE FLIGHT back from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, where the 190th was stationed, took about 19 hours. The group, which flew in formation together, stopped for refueling in Spain, Roth said.
"It was raining in Spain," Roth said. "It didn't do that very often over there. It was great to see grass and green trees."
Roth said the reception that greeted them in Topeka meant a lot to members of the 190th who had served in Vietnam.
"They didn't get any recognition," he said. "It shows the American people can rally behind their troops."
Russ McCabria, another soldier who returned home to Eudora on Saturday night, said he was glad the have conveniences that may people take for granted.
"I appreciate a lot of things . . . like the telephone, (electric) lights, a chair. We lived for six months with hardly anything," he said.
MCCABRIA, 22, a lance corporal with the 3rd Marines 3rd Batallion unit from Kaneohe, Hawaii, said the first thing he did when he returned to the United States was order a pizza.
"Looking back now, conditions didn't seem really bad, but back there it was," said McCabria, who was stationed in the Saudi Arabian desert from late August until last week. He served as a mortarman while in the Middle East.
McCabria said one of his most vivid memories of the war is spending Christmas in the desert without Christmas lights or presents.
"There were camels around . . . and it kind of reminded you of the first Christmas, being in that part of the world, with the camels," he said.
McCabria also said he and other men in his unit received many letters, often from people they did not know.
MCCABRIA'S mother, Cherry, said the family will host a welcome home party for him on Tuesday night at their home on Route 1, between Lawrence and Eudora.
She said anyone from the area who sent letters or prayers to her son is welcome to attend.
"We've got yellow ribbons on every tree. . . . We're so glad he's back," she said.