CANTON, Ohio -- Dozens of local soldiers spent Friday night with their families … the first time they’ve seen them in nearly a year.
It was an emotional scene inside the auditorium of Canton McKinley High School Friday afternoon, as family, friends and community leaders gave a hero's welcome to 73 local heroes.
The men and women of the Ohio National Guard Company B, 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment returned home after an 11 month deployment to Afghanistan. They did combat air assaults, transported VIPs and millions of pounds of cargo using Chinook helicopters in Salerno and the Bagram Air Base.
"It feels like a dream. I don't know, I've been away from so many people that give hugs for so long, it kind of feels weird to touch everybody and hold everybody and actually see their faces and look at my kids and see how much they've grown," said returning soldier Jake Moore.
"Obviously it's really great, he's been gone for a long time, so it's good to see him," said Moore’s wife, Colleen.
"I just miss him so much because I was waiting all this time," said Moore’s 6-year-old son, Gabe.
Dale Benedetti is seeing his granddaughter Sophia for the first time.
"It's great, I've seen her on Skype, but this is the first time I've got to hold her, she's number eight, eighth grandchild," Benedetti said.
Specialist Pamela Howe says she's thrilled to be reunited with her family, but proud of the work her unit accomplished.
"Surreal, I'm waiting any minute for them to tell me I'm about to be on a plane back somewhere," said Howe.
"So what's it like to have mom home?" Howe's daughter was asked.
"Amazing, at first I was like scared that she wouldn't come back," was Na’tya Smith's reply.
But the whole unit did come back safely ... making successes as well as sacrifices.
The welcome home ceremony was originally scheduled for Saturday, but when officials realized they'd be coming home a bit early they rescheduled for Friday afternoon and it's probably safe to say, no one's really complaining.