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Posted: Friday, December 7th, 2012 9:08 AM HST

Montana airmen head home after defending Hawaii

By Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) Montana National Guard airmen are heading home in time for Christmas after spending more than two years defending the skies above Hawaii.

Airmen from the 120th Fighter Wing have been guarding air space above the islands with their F-15 fighter jets since August 2010.

They were filling in until the Hawaii National Guard was ready to use its new F-22 fighter jets.

The Hawaii National Guard's 199th Fighter Squadron and its Air Force partner, the 19th Fighter Squadron, attained operational status last month. This cleared the way for Montana's airmen to head home.

Montana is handing back responsibility for the air defense mission to Hawaii on Thursday.

Montana airmen were initially expecting to step in for only 14 months.

But their stay was extended when the Pentagon temporarily grounded F-22s.

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