LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Dozens of central Arkansas families had to make some last-minute Christmas plans, because they will have one more person at home this year.
Nearly 40 soldiers came home Friday from their deployment overseas with the Arkansas National Guard. The 449th Aviation Support Battalion's B Company was based in Kuwait, fixing helicopters in support of missions around the Middle East.
“Yeah, it was a good deployment,” said SG1 Ed Stertmann of Pine Bluff. “We had a good bunch of soldiers; a lot of young soldiers, and we were really able to refine their skills. We got the best aviation maintenance guys, that we brought back. They're awesome guys.”
But by the end of their stay at Camp Buehring, SG1 Chris Lingo said the men and women of the 449th Aviation Support Battalion's B Company started thinking more and more about Arkansas.
“Everybody gets what we got: we call it 'go-home-itis,'” he said. “Everybody's just in a rush to get home, basically.”
The wait was also tough on the soldiers' families. Stertmann had several members of his family waiting inside a hangar at Camp Robinson for him to arrive.
“Your heart is just beating 90 to nothing,” his wife, Paula, explained. “I mean, you're so excited and you're so antsy. You just can't wait.”
Ed Stertmann said the members of B Company knew a couple weeks ago that its tour of duty was nearly over. But with a forced layover at Fort Hood and the demands of the job, they did not know if they would get back home in time for Christmas.
“We didn't really know for certain until (Thursday) that we were going to make it,” he said.
“We were all hoping, but nothing definite, 100 percent,” Lingo added. “But we had our fingers crossed.”
Friday afternoon, the hangar's big garage-style doors opened, and the 39 soldiers walked through, into their families' arms for hugs and high-fives. They also took plenty of photos, because it was the first time the soldiers and their families had seen each other since February.
Sometimes, memories have to suffice while a loved one is serving our country. Now these families can create new memories together this Christmas weekend.
“We have lots of Christmas plans,” Paula Stertmann said. “We have family everywhere.”
Ed Stertmann said his first plan was to find a good steak, which drew both laughter and an eye-roll from Paula. But he was focused on the warm reception from his wife, children, and parents after completing his third tour of duty.
“It's great every time,” he said.
“It was amazing,” Paula Stertmann added. “And it seems like forever, to have to wait this long. But it's definitely worth it.”
50 soldiers from B Company left for Kuwait in February. Lingo was one of 10 who came home on Wednesday, while one volunteered to stay in Kuwait and serve another tour.