FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Nathan Aeschliman wasted no time.
As soon as the 10-year-old saw his dad, he sprinted to the waiting arms of his family's camouflage-clad patriarch.
Sisters Claire and Julia weren't far behind. They also grabbed onto Maj. Joshua Aeschliman who waddled, weighted down with children, to his wife, Danna.
Aeschliman savored the moment, which he'd been waiting on for the last 12 months.
"It's been awhile since I've seen them," he said, between hugs.
The blurring of Army uniforms amid a crowd of eagerly waiting family members followed a short ceremony at Fort Bragg's Green Ramp.
The soldiers, about 100 from the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, were the first of nearly 180 members of the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade set to return from Southwest Asia in coming days.
For the past year, the soldiers provided ballistic support for allies across the Middle East. They were recently replaced by soldiers from Fort Sill's 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
Col. Joseph McCallion, Jr., commander of the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, welcomed the soldiers home on Saturday.
"No matter what the weather's like outside, nothing can dampen this great day," he said. "You volunteered to be part of the greatest Army on the face of the Earth and have dutifully served the nation and gone where it has told you to go."
"You are all heroes in your own right for serving something bigger than yourselves," McCallion added. "On behalf of a grateful nation, the United States Army and the brigade, welcome home."
Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Albright spotted his family - four children and wife, Stephanie - as he led the soldiers' march into Green Ramp.
"You can't wait to get the ceremony over with because you want to hug them and get in the car with them," he said. "It's good be back to make the family whole again."
Outside Green Ramp, Fort Bragg and the surrounding communities were covered in ice and a dusting of snow Saturday morning.
Some families traveled through hazardous weather for their reunions, including the Gainey family, who came from blizzard-beaten Washington, D.C., to greet their soldier, Spc. Michael Gainey.
The icy roads slowed the family down, adding two hours to their commute.
But father Mike Gainey, who retired from the Navy after 20 years, said they couldn't imagine missing the event.
"We wouldn't miss it for the world," he said. "I remembered seeing guys on the boat that didn't have anyone waiting for them, and it's okay, but we wanted to be here. Even a blizzard couldn't keep us."
Sister Michelle Ruble said the family was able to chat while he was deployed, but nothing compares to having him home.
"It's been a strange year not having him just a phone call away," she said. "I think he's ready to be home and we're ready to have him home."
©2016 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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