RENO, NV - There were tears nearly a year ago as families watched as members of the Nevada National Guard's 189th Aviation Battalion left for Fort Hood, Texas on their way to Afghanistan.
Wednesday any tears were shed in joy at the sight of those same 50 soldiers striding into the airport terminal.
"I was crying,' said Caitlin Hefner who was carrying a sign counting the 336 days since she'd seen her husband, Sgt. John Hefner. "All the stress is just relieved. I can breathe again."
For families and returning soldiers, the final hours of the journey home may have been the hardest since their departure.
"Oh, it kills us," said Sgt. Rob Knight who was holding his four year old son. "We feel like we've been waiting for this for the entire year."
"Very emotional," added Sgt. Robyn Collins who was greeted by her family. "We're really glad to be home though."
When these families last saw each other this day must have seemed a long way off. In between missed birthdays, holidays, nearly a year out of their lives. Tough on those over there and those left behind.
And then there was the worry. Although the unit lost one of its Chinook helicopters to a hard landing in August, there were no serious injuries. The last time the 189th was in Afghanistan, in 2005, they lost two members in action. That's a memory that didn't make the waiting any easier.
"A lot of no sleeping," remembers Caitlin Hefner who added those on the home front spend a lot of time waiting for phone calls and emails never knowing when they might come.
"It's nice to have your support, good friends that you find. That's what helps you pass the moments."
There were in the large crowd 50 different emotional reunions all at once. For some though it was a meeting for the very first time.
Eight month old Connor Weaver was born while his father, Capt. Trevor Weaver, was a half a world away. Standing with his wife, Jennifer, he was holding his son for the first time.
"Nothing else matters besides these two," he said. "Absolutely nothing."
Sadly, unless a family member is serving in uniform, most of us give little thought day to day of the sacrifice these men and women and their families here at home give in our name.
Sights like this should remind us.
Welcome home. Thanks for your service.