It took eight months in Iraq, four days of return flights and one anxious 30-minute delay for 50 members of the 99th Security Forces Group with Nellis Air Force Base to reunite with families and friends.
When they finally landed Tuesday morning at McCarran International Airport, the returning military personnel were greeted with shrieks, kisses and tears.
"Honey, you’re home," said Crystal Dudzik as her husband, Airman 1st Class Cody Dudzik, scooped her into a hug.
The Texas couple married in March 2007, but Cody Dudzik’s deployment has kept them separated.
"I’ve waited for this day since the day he left," Crystal Dudzik said.
That sentiment was shared by the other families grouped around her.
Several airmen had to be introduced to sons and daughters born after their fathers were sent to guard Iraq’s Camp Bucca prison in 2007.
Others returned to find that the infants they had left behind had grown into toddlers.
Airmen without families were cheered by the dozens of people who came to greet the returning security forces.
"It’s overwhelming … surreal," unit member Michael Williams said. "No matter how they feel about the war, they still come out to support us."
His wife, Dominique Williams, has witnessed such homecomings several times.
"It’s great for morale," she said. "I know I’m ecstatic."
Las Vegas resident Christie Garness said her family has lots of plans for her brother-in-law, Airman 1st Class Chase Stoops.
Garness planned to show off his recently remodeled room, hang out and take a trip to San Diego, all after first stopping to get Stoops his favorite drink, a caramel macchiato.
"When my dad was in the Army, we’d go to pick him up, and I don’t ever remember being this excited," Garness said. "This is great."
Contact reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.