Rain drops mingled with tears of joy Sunday afternoon as Jennifer Parr and about 20 family members ran onto the Gowen Field tarmac to welcome home Chad Parr, her husband.
"He's my best friend. I want him back," Jennifer Parr said while waiting for Chad's aircraft to arrive.
Chad Parr was among the first 50 of 250 soldiers from Idaho National Guard's 1-183rd Aviation Battalion returning Sunday to Boise from Afghanistan via Fort Hood, Texas.
Two other groups will return over the next two weekends, Idaho National Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Stephanie Dowling said.
The battalion has served in Afghanistan since February 2006 on a diverse mission that included combat in Apache helicopters, troop and equipment transport and medical care to soldiers and Afghan civilians.
It was one of the largest deployments for the Idaho National Guard since October 2001.
On Sunday's rainy, cold afternoon, Gov. Butch Otter and other officials greeted the men as hundreds of family members and friends waited nearby.
The crowd cheered and waved flags as the soldiers disembarked from the aircraft. Following the lead of a few people, they ran to the men, hugging and kissing them before the soldiers could cross the tarmac.
Wives and girlfriends were glad to have the separation behind them.
For Jennifer Parr, raising two teenagers alone and putting her husband back on a plane after two brief visits were hardest on the family.
"It's really hard to be without him," said Tammy Sands of her husband, Sgt. David Jenkins. "It makes you stronger. You don't realize how important the family is, especially the in-laws, until you need them. They're a lot of support."
Sands and Jenkins got married Sept. 8, but postponed a ceremony and his graduation from Boise State University because of the deployment. The big wedding is set for April 28.
Nampa resident April Sears said this deployment was more difficult than when her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Kevyn Sears, went to Bosnia in 2002-03.
"The children were older," she said. "The hardest part was while I'm helping them understand and deal with their emotions, I'm trying to deal with my own."
Families said they support the military men and women, but they are constantly concerned for their loved ones and feel for the families who recently lost men in Iraq.
"That was horrible. I just cried and cried," said April Sears. "It's always in the back of your mind."
"It's scary to watch the news. You hear ‘plane crash,' and your heart just stops," Sands said. "My heart goes out to those families."
Soldiers said they believe their service made a difference in Afghanistan.
"We're doing a great thing over there," said Apache crew chief Sgt. Goran Tadic.
Tadic, 26, came to the United States from Bosnia at age 16 because of the war in his country. He said he can relate to the struggle in Afghanistan.
"We're helping the locals produce their own country, to achieve what they want, to have democracy and freedom," he said.
Soldier Adonis Jones, computers and communications, said the humanitarian missions were the high point of the deployment for him.
"It did touch some of them. You want to help them all but you can't," he said.
Jones, of Meridian, said he's more appreciative of home after this, his first deployment, and the things he took for granted — the solitude of his bathroom, drinking water from a tap, and not having to constantly walk over rocks and boulders.
"It was difficult, a long journey," he said. "It wasn't what I expected."
Other men said they look forward to time with their families.
"It feels good to be home," Chad Parr said.
To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Sandra Forester at email@example.com or 377-6464.