A sea of American flags greeted Sandra Valois, 26, of Cambria as she arrived Thursday, April 15, at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport from a tour of duty in Iraq.
Happy to be back on the Central Coast and eager to ride home on the back of her dad’s motorcycle, Valois hugged friends and family whom she hadn’t seen since leaving for Baghdad seven months ago.
“I didn’t expect such a big reception, but knowing the Cambrian community, I guess I should have expected it,” Valois said.
At a dinner party Friday, Aprial 16, well-wishers stuf fed the Cambria American Legion hall to talk with her, shake her hand, thank her or have their photos taken with her. Some had known her since she was born.
Local veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam, were determined to make Valois’ return special, Ron Waltman, commander of Cambria’s American Legion Post No. 432, said, adding, “In 1975, I think we all took a collective vow that the next generation of ser vice members would never have to endure those homecomings again.”
Valois was a terrorism intelligence analyst in Iraq and was there during the parliamentary elections, which she noted had a higher turnout than elections typically do in the United States.
“I’m very impressed with the evolution of their system in the last year,” Valois said, adding that she is hopeful for Iraqis. “Iraq is on the right track.”
Valois has been in the military for 3 1/2 years and is a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force. “I love my work,” she said. “I have a passion for it, and wanted to do it since I was little.”
She plans to renew her contract with the military and go on another tour, most likely to Afghanistan, she said.
The hardest part of being in Iraq was not being able to walk on the streets and feel safe, she said.
Now that she is back, Valois plans on relaxing, catching up with her family and friends and enjoying American air.
“It’s so dusty over there,” she said.