Spc. Zachary Tracy saw his daughter's birth via video and watched her grow through e-mailed photos. On Wednesday, he held 6-month-old Peyton for the first time.
"It's awesome; it's something you can't even explain," he said afterward.
Tracy was one of 149 Idaho Army National Guard soldiers from the 116th Brigade Combat Team who returned to Gowen Field from Iraq Wednesday to a cheering crowd. Among them was Tracy's wife, Amanda. The couple got married in August 2004 when he was on leave from training. Despite being married for more than a year, they have never lived together.
"We haven't even actually experienced the married life yet," Amanda Tracy said.
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Until the Guard's flight landed at 5:30 p.m., Amanda Tracy paced the Gowen Field tarmac, wondering aloud whether each light in the sky was her husband's plane.
"I pray to God that's them," the Nampa woman said as a jet landed. It wasn't.
Soon after, Amanda Tracy's face darkened as a Guard official told her the plane would arrive an hour late.
For the past six months she has balanced motherhood, beauty school and worrying about her husband's safety, relying on friends and family to get her through.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," she said.
Spc. Tracy missed Peyton's first word — "momma" — and now Amanda Tracy wants to do some serious catching up.
"We're going to stay home, get to know each other, teach him how to be a daddy," she said.
Amanda Tracy was one of hundreds of people on the tarmac Wednesday anxious to see their loved ones for the first time in months. Some chatted, some paced, some chain-smoked. Everyone had the far off look of months of nervous anticipation. With the roar of every distant engine, hundreds of hopeful faces turned skyward only to be disappointed as plane after plane landed without the soldiers. Finally, as the sun went down and the temperature plunged, the shivering crowd at Gowen Field erupted in cheers and lurched forward as the Guard's chartered flight touched down. As the plane taxied, the crowd could barely contain itself. Mutters of, "C'mon, your plane goes faster than that" and "I think he's deliberately going slow," could be heard.
Amanda Tracy jumped up and down, clapping her hands, tears running down her cheeks. She screamed when her husband hit the top of the plane's staircase.
Spc. Tracy, who worked for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game before his deployment, said he is just looking forward to a warm bed and staying home with family. What comes next? "Right now, I really don't care. I'm going to wait and find out."
The 116th left Idaho in July 2004 for several months of training and arrived in northern Iraq in December. All of the soldiers are now back on American soil, and the Guard is hoping to get them all back home for the holidays, Lt. Col. Stephanie Dowling said.
"We're shooting for Thanksgiving," she said.