Water cannon salute at airport welcomes Utah National Guard members returning from Middle East

A Skywest flight with returning Utah National Guard members taxis under a water cannon salute at the St. George Regional Airport, St. George, Utah, Jan. 31, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE The terminal at St. George Regional Airport burst into applause as more than a dozen Utah National Guard members made their way into the airport after a touching display of respect and gratitude sprang from the hoses of two fire engines – the hallowed water cannon salute.

Utah National Guard military members reunite with family and friends at the St. George Regional Airport after a 10-month deployment to the Middle East, St. George, Utah, Jan. 31, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

About 3,000 gallons of water rained down upon the Skywest aircraft as it taxied toward the tarmac Thursday.

The water cannon salute is an airport tradition to honor military veterans and involves two fire engines that spray arcs of water over the arriving flight as a sign of respect, honor and gratitude, courtesy of St. George Airport Fire and Rescue and the St. George Fire Department.

“We do this anytime we become aware that a flight is carrying a group of military members returning home,” St. George Regional Airport Manager Rich Stehmeier said.

Stehmeier, who served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, said it’s always a cause for celebration when those serving in the military to return home.

“It’s good for them to see how important their service is, and it’s also a show of respect for the sacrifices they make by going over there,” he  added.

Hours earlier, the flight left Phoenix with members of the 1st Battalion, 145th Field Artillery Regiment, part of Utah’s oldest military organization, along with members from the 2nd Battalion 222nd Field Artillery, known as “Triple Deuce.”

The guard members were deployed to the Middle East in March of last year, according to the Utah Army National Guard recruiting office.

The outburst of applause that took place when the group first entered the terminal was the result of bystanders and travelers who witnessed the water cannon salute while waiting for a flight, Stehmeier said, and were likely told by the Skywest desk that the water salute was performed for a plane carrying service members returning home.

The ovation continued as the group made its way toward a large room where a crowd of nearly 100 were gathered to celebrate their return.

Stehmeier said it is important for the military members to experience such a warm welcome, as it “lets them know that people are aware that they are home and that they were missed.”

The water cannon salute consists of placing an even number of fire engines on each side of a taxiway, pumping water to create a high arch that lasts about two minutes. In addition to honoring veterans, the tradition is used to welcome foreign dignitaries and new airline service as well as other notable events.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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