After months in the desert, performing hundreds of security missions, dozens of National Guard soldiers walked into the arms of their loved ones on Wednesday. Returning soldiers and their families tell our Cara Thomas they've been waiting for this day since the second they left.
CENTRAL NEW YORK -- Smiles, laughter and tears were on families' faces as they awaited the return of their beloved soldiers and boy, were they excited for them to be home.
"'Cause we missed 'em," said Kayleigh Pratt and Hailey Aylesworth as they waited for their father and grandfather to arrive.
Hundreds of National Guard soldiers have been returning all week to the Central New York area. On Wednesday, around 80 soldiers reunited with their families in Syracuse and 11 in Utica, but family members say the wait has not been easy.
The mother of a returning soldier, Kelly Aylesworth, said, "We were able to Facebook a little bit and Skype only couple times, but with the windstorms and everything over there, we always lost contact with him."
Christina Aylesworth, the wife of a returning soldier, said, "I feel like, you know, part of me has been gone which it has been so you know. Half my heart's been in Afghanistan."
About 1,800 National Guard soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan last January as part of 'Task Force Iron.' And in the 10 months they were gone, they performed more than 570 security missions around the country, mainly on Highway One, the main road which runs along the provinces.
Sgt. John Howard with the 2nd Battalion -108th Infantry Regiment said, "Everything's dangerous in the combat zones, of course, with the IEDs and the explosives and the tactics the insurgents are using there, but of course, they're putting themselves in harm's way on purpose."
And on Wednesday, the soldiers and their families reached the moment they'd been looking forward to for months: The moment when they can be with their loved ones again.
"It's amazing, it was worth the wait. Just come back and see everyone, it's a good feeling," said Spc. Johnathon Aylesworth.
Soldiers say they plan to take this time to be with family and just relax. Many of them will be deployed again in the future, but for now, they say they're going to take advantage of every second they have at home.