TRAVERSE CITY — Brayden Minor squirmed in his mother's arms at Cherry Capital Airport as passenger after passenger sauntered past. It had been eight months since the 5-year-old last saw his father.
Eight long months since they hugged, laughed or played together.
But Brayden ran to his dad as soon as he spotted the smile has seen only in pictures for two-thirds of a year.
Staff Sgt. Sam Minor scooped up his son and looked on in shock at the crowd of people and dozens of flags that packed the airport lobby. He next pickedvd up his daughter, Emlee, 3, and then kissed his wife of 10 years, Tatum Minor.
"This is actually massive. I never would have thought there would be anything like this here," he said. "To see that here, to me, it's pretty shocking. This is where I'm from. I'm taken aback."
Minor, 32, returned to his hometown Tuesday night after his seventh deployment with the U.S. Marine Corps. The Traverse City West Senior High School graduate has been shipped five times to Iraq and twice to Jordan in the 14 years since he enlisted.
"He's never had a real homecoming," Tatum Minor said. "I feel he's earned it."
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His mother, Sandi Minor, said the first four years of her son's military career were the most stressful. Minor was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 — a time when there were a lot of unknowns, she said.
"I work in the ER. I work in trauma and drama all day long, but it's nothing compared to the emotional turmoil of having your son in a war," she said. "I'm very proud of my son for serving. He's a great marine, and I'm behind him 100 percent."
Lon Minor said he was "floored" by the hometown reception for his son Tuesday. He knew family and friends would turn out, but he thanked dozens of people he had never met before as he awaited his son's arrival.
Grand Traverse Area Veterans Coalition President John Lefler helped organize the homecoming. He said the display of gratitude represents the community's appreciation for all U.S. military members and veterans.
"There's so many that don't get recognized after their multiple sacrifices," Tatum Minor said. "It's something that I felt was needed this time."
She hopes her husband's latest deployment to Iraq will be his last overseas. She'd like to see him finish out his 20-year Marine Corps career stateside with his family, but the Minors will do whatever their country asks of them.
"What we're hoping from here is to start another chapter in this wonderful book of life of ours," she said. "We'll make the best of any kind of situation that we're given. That's what we do."