January 18, 2008


Soldier surprises sons at Homer school


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Rebecca Bustillos surprised her two sons Brandon, left, and Justin, right, at Homer Intermediate School with her homecoming from Qatar while on leave from the Air Force Friday.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Brandon and Justin Bustillos thought their mom was coming home from military duty in Qatar Monday. They couldn’t believe it when she showed up at Homer Intermediate School Friday afternoon.
“I tricked you, didn’t I?” Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Bustillos said, as her sons ran to give her a hug, eyes widened.
Her sons, their classmates, teachers and staff greeted Bustillos in the hallway outside the school auditorium. The students had been making cards at tables in the hallway prior to her arrival.
“It was like ‘Bam!’ and she came in,” said Kelly Perrine, a third-grader. “It was funny. It was like she snuck in.”
Eyes welled up with tears as the family embraced for the first time in four months.
Bustillos, 32, left for Qatar in September. A 1993 Homer High School graduate whose maiden name is Farber, Bustillos joined the Air Force within a year after graduation.
Bustillos, an aircraft mechanic with a technical sergeant rank, has been deployed to 27 countries over the years, including Turkey, England and Saudi Arabia.
She has been away from her children at several different points in their lives, but this was their longest separation, she said.
She is stationed in Delaware and her children moved from Delaware to their grandparents’ house on Houghton Hill Road in September when she was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
“I have the best parents in the world to take my kids for four months,” Bustillos said of Christina and Rollyn Farber.
Rebecca Bustillos is divorced from her children’s father.
Christina Farber said it’s been a pleasure hosting her grandchildren as she took pictures Friday of her daughter reuniting with Brandon and Justin.
The students will return to Delaware with their mother after the weekend.
“They’re quite adaptable,” said Christina Farber, noting the children have been helping out with chores on the family farm.
The boys’ classmates agreed, saying Brandon, 8, and Justin, 11, have handled the separation with their mother pretty well.
“He’s been the best person in the world at doing that,” third-grader Danny Hale said about his classmate Brandon, noting he has a happy demeanor.
Students said they learned a lot about what Brandon and Justin’s mother was doing in Qatar, like how she was repairing airplanes, many for soldiers that were flying into Iraq.
Richard Stevens, a fifth-grader, said he felt a special connection with the Bustillos. His stepbrother is going to North Carolina to train to fight in Afganistan.
Stevens said he would like to join the military one day, if he feels he’s needed.
“My mom says we both want to break her heart,” he said.
Prior to Bustillos’ arrival, Justin told a friend he was happy to know his mom “was coming home in one piece.”
Once Brandon had finished hugging his mom, he said he was looking forward to doing fun things with her again.
“We go out to eat, and we go out sometimes to shop,” he said.
The family is celebrating Bustillo’s return at a party Saturday night.
Bustillo, who has 5.5 years left in the air force, said it was great to have a welcome home party at the school.
When she showed up, a day after having flown into Baltimore, she didn’t anticipate a crowd of more than 30 students and staff, cards, a big banner and cupcakes.
“That’s a surprise, that’s for sure,” she said.




Camp Pharsalia slated for closure

Corrections department says affected employees will be offered other state jobs

Staff Reporter

PHARSALIA — New York plans to close four prison facilities in the state next January, including Camp Pharsalia in Chenango County.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s office announced the planned closures Jan. 11, which include Camp Pharsalia, Camp Gabriels in Franklin County, the medium-security Hudson facility in Columbia County, and Camp McGregor, the minimum-security camp at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Saratoga County.
Camp Pharsalia, a minimum-security lumber camp near Cincinnatus, houses 164 inmates and employs 106 people, including 64 security personnel and 42 civilian and administrative positions. Eleven of the jobs are part time.
Spitzer cited a declining state prison population in his announcement of the prison closures. From 1996 through 2007, the number of inmates at medium-security prisons in the state dropped by 18 percent, and minimum-security prison populations dropped by 47 percent, according to the states Department of Correctional Services.
Overall, the state’s inmate population has dropped from a peak of 71,600 in 1999 to less than 62,500 last year, about a 13 percent decrease.
The closures of Pharsalia and other prison camps are expected to save $10.4 million in operating costs in the 2008-09 fiscal year, and $33.5 million annually beginning in 2009.
The Department of Correctional Services plans to minimize the impact of the closures on the affected communities, said Erik Kriss, a DOCS spokesman.
“Every employee will be offered a state job,” Kriss said.
Kriss said normal attrition rates across the states correction system should allow for most, if not all, of the employees at Camp Pharsalia to find jobs within the corrections system, but that the department is also working with other state agencies to find possible job openings.



Homer school budget session Tuesday

Staff Reporter

The Homer school district is holding a public input session Tuesday night at which members of the public can voice ideas on what should and should not be included in the district’s 2008-09 budget.
The hearing begins at 7 p.m. and takes place in the high school library.
The school board has not yet started discussing the budget, school officials say, in part because it first wants to know what the public is thinking.
Also, Gov. Eliot Spitzer hasn’t yet presented his proposed budget, which should provide some indication as to how much state aid the school district is getting. He will present the budget proposal Tuesday.
Last year the school district gained about 11 percent more in state funding than it had received the year before, according to Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison.
That represented a change from previous years of declining state funding, Larison said, and Spitzer said he’d continue increasing state funding over the next four years.