HAMPTON, VA., JAN. 17 -- For the first time in five months, Janette Doucette saw her husband today. Awakened at 4 a.m. by a ringing telephone, she turned on the television to check out the latest news on the Persian Gulf war.
There, staring her in the face, was her husband, Capt. John Doucette, an Air Force pilot, just back from a sortie over Baghdad.
"He looked great. It was like I could almost touch him," said the 29-year-old mother of two, who grew up in Bethesda. "Every time he looked at the camera, it was like he was looking at me."
John Doucette, 29, deployed in Saudi Arabia with the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron from Langley Air Force Base outside Hampton, was one of the first pilots to roar over Baghdad in his F-15 Eagle Wednesday night and enthusiastically related his first war mission in footage shown unedited on CNN.
His squadron and another from Langley were in the forefront of the opening assault in the war on Iraq and the initial reports of success have heartened friends and families here in southeastern Virginia who have hung on every television broadcast. Base switchboards were swamped with calls of congratulations, while those civic leaders attending the mayor's prayer breakfast talked of their pride in the hometown heroes.
"There was a tremendous sense of pride and support for what had been happening," said Mayor James L. Eason, who like many city residents has a good friend among the airmen stationed in the desert.
None was prouder today than the wives, parents and children of the jet jockeys who flew into enemy airspace. But it was just part of a roller-coaster 24 hours.
Family members of the pilots found out about the air attack the same way everyone else did -- by television and radio -- and gathered in each others' homes for tense hours of waiting Wednesday night. While no units were identified in early reports, they knew their loved ones in the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing were almost certainly involved.
They breathed more easily by 11 p.m., when calls from the base informed them that all pilots in that wing had returned safely.
"We all let out a big hoot and holler when we heard that," said Kimberly McMullen, 26, an accountant whose husband, 1st Lt. John McMullen, 27, flies with the 27th squadron. "That made us feel a million times better . . . . My stomach was doing flip-flops when we first heard."
While they remain anxious, McMullen said she and other wives are "pumped up" for their husbands because this is what they have long trained to do.
"I'm making it on adrenaline and coffee today and I've been in front of the TV pretty much all day," said McMullen, who got only three hours of sleep and played hookey from work today to follow gulf war developments. "But today I feel more excited for him than anything else. I'm not as scared as I was."
Friends and relatives were relieved that the pilots faced little Iraqi opposition. One of the few who did engage in a dogfight with an enemy jet was Capt. Stephen W. Tate, from Langley's 71st squadron.
Tate, 28, who has a wife and two small children living in Hampton, was leading a four-plane flight on the front edge of the attack on Baghdad when he picked up an Iraqi Mirage F-1 following a U.S. fighter. He told news agencies on his return that he fired a single Sparrow air-to-air missile at the Iraqi plane, which "just blew up into a thousand pieces."
His friends back home were exhilarated and envious.
"This is great," said Frank Gonzalez, 30, a former pilot and captain who served with Tate until this month. "Wish I was there."
For a few wives, television helped them be there, if just for a few fleeting moments. Televised interviews with some of the Langley pilots on their return calmed nerves and prompted tears.
"That was wonderful to see him," said Connie McBroom, whose husband, Col. John McBroom, is wing commander and flew with the sorties. "I don't know what he said because I was so shocked to see him. I almost died. I almost had a heart attack."
Doucette, who graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Montgomery County before marrying, said so many people saw her husband's interview that she didn't stop answering the telephone all day.
"People I haven't talked to in years have called up: 'Hey, I saw John on the news. How are you doing?' " she said, laughing. "I'm so glad it's good news and nothing terrible. This would be so hard to take if it had been something bad."
"I'm real proud of him. I just hope he comes home safe. I don't think the knot in my stomach will go away until he does."