In the crush of hundreds of paratroopers and their families, Staff Sgt. Evan Boatman held tight to his 20-month-old daughter Emry while his wife looked on smiling.
The trio embraced for the first time in nearly seven months since Boatman deployed to Afghanistan. His only mission now is to spend time with his wife and play with his daughter, who's gotten a little taller and more active.
"It was amazing," Boatman said. "She's changed so much. She has her own little personality now."
About 250 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team arrived home Tuesday from a deployment to Afghanistan. The soldiers were among more than 2,000 who have been deployed to Afghanistan to serve as advisers for allied troops and provide security to numerous bases across the country.
Col. Brett Funck, chief of staff for the 82nd Airborne Division, welcomed the troops home with brief remarks.
"Job well done," he said. "As you come back, take a deep breath, relax, look after your paratrooper, your buddy, your jump buddy, but spend some well-deserved time with your family."
The Phillips family drove 11 hours to Fort Bragg from their home in Alabama. Traci Phillips was waiting for her son, Spc. Will Phillips.
"My baby's going to be home," she said, holding a hand-painted sign with his name on it. "I'm going to hug him as soon as I see him."
It would be nearly impossible for Sgt. Zack Gulczynski to miss his wife, Cabrini Gulczynski. She was holding a handmade poster that was illuminated by heart-shaped lights that she had strung around it.
"I'm going to hang back because I'm afraid I'm going to pass out when I see him," she said, jokingly.
The couple was able to talk while he was deployed. The phone calls, she said, are what kept her going.
"It was everything," she said. "That is what kept me bonded to him, to hear his voice. It's like he wasn't far away."
While deployed, Cabrini sent care packages that she stuffed with her husband's favorite things, like beef jerky and candles that smelled like their home.
In one of their last conversations before his return home, the soldier told his wife that he had a dream of her. In it, she was wearing white while welcoming him home. So as Cabrini prepared for their reunion, she made a point of putting on a white outfit and standing near the front of the crowd.
She couldn't imagine not being there to welcome him home.
"I want him to know he wasn't forgotten," she said. "It can be rough out there. I wanted to show him that I've been by his side and I'll stay by his side."
This article is written by Amanda Dolasinski from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.