WILLIAMSTOWN-Just in time for turkey, pumpkin pie and most importantly, family, nine members of the West Virginia Army National Guard who were deployed for 10 months had their boots back on home ground Wednesday.
Arriving at the Williamstown Readiness Center Wednesday morning were members of Detachment 28 Operation Support Airlift Command, who were greeted by the Patriot Guard Riders, American Red Cross, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The homecoming for the nine soldiers, who had been serving in Africa, was a sweet one filled with laughs, tears, giant hugs and kisses from loved ones.
AMANDA NICHOLSON The Marietta Times
1st Lt. Michael Howard holds his 5-year-old daughter Micah close.
Jenny Gates was one of those loved ones. Her husband is Sgt. Shawn Gates.
"I'm just anxious and glad he's coming home and glad he's safe," Gates said of her husband. "It's a lot to deal with when you're on your own. You want to try and make sure everything is taken care of."
"I'm very excited and have a lot of different emotions," she said.
During the ceremony, Sgt. Gates received a promotion to Staff Sergeant.
"I'm excited," he said. "It's new challenges ahead that are welcomed."
He said he was thrilled to finally be home.
"It's exhilarating," Gates said. "It's been a long time coming. Hopefully it's the last time I'll have to leave my family."
First Lt. Michael Howard spoke during the ceremony about the good the unit did in Africa, where it was aiding in anti-terrorism and humanitarian efforts.
"We contributed so much to the war effort," Howard said. "We earned a reputation that nobody will be able to match."
After completing eight days of pre-mobilization training at Camp Atterbury, they arrived in Djibouti, Africa on March 1, 2013.
The nine soldiers that make up DET 28 conducted 164 missions in Africa, executing more than 1,275 flight hours and flying 110,610 pounds of cargo and 822 passengers across Africa.
"They flew across the entire continent," Maj. Fred Nicely said. "They were moving cargo, equipment and personnel across Africa in support of operations."
Howard said he was elated at seeing his family again Wednesday.
"It's better than good," he said, grinning.
Howard's daughter, Micah, 5, was clinging to him.
"We're going to play and read books," he said with a laugh. "And then I can decompress."
Howard's wife, Megan, said immediate plans were going to consist of family time.
"We'll mainly just spend time together," she said. "And (there will be) no electronic devices!"
Howard's other daughter, Malia, 15, said it felt great to have her father home.
"It's been way too long," she said.
Cheryl Shamblen was thinking ahead to holiday plans with her husband, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Don Shamblen.
"It's such a relief to know he's home safe," she said. "It's peace of mind. Now I'm going to have him put up Christmas lights."
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Scott Lohr spoke of his desire for home.
"It's great, but it's cold," he said. "I want to get a good night's sleep. And get some good food."
Assistant Adjutant General Charles Veit, in his speech during the ceremony, thanked the families of the soldiers for their sacrifice.
"Thank you for letting us borrow your loved ones," he said. "They serve because you allow them to serve."
The DET 28 is made up of Commanders Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Owens and 1st Lt. Michael Howard; Detachment Sergeant Sgt. 1st Class Ron Stanley; Flight Operations NCO Sgt. Shawn Gates; and Aviators Chief Warrant Officer 4 Scott Lohr, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Zack Dickinson, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mike Lazorchak, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris Mackey and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Don Shamblen.