UPDATE: Sunday, December 23, 2012
There's no place like home for the holidays.
This year, that's exactly where more than 60 Kansas National Guard soldiers will be after returning from their deployment to Kuwait just in time for Christmas.
The soldiers were dismissed from duty Sunday at a homecoming ceremony in Salina. The men and women of the 170th Maintenance Company served a year in Kuwait on a security detail mission supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. It was the first time since Operation Desert Storm the 170th had been deployed.
Hays' Kelli Swander was one of the first to make the dash to her favorite soldier when the ceremony was over.
"I told them beforehand, I said, 'Just hold on to me because when they say, 'You are released,' I'm running!'" Swander said.
Who could blame her? After all, she had waited 12 months for this moment.
"We had a countdown!" Swander said.
It took just seconds for her to run to Ezra, her husband of nine years.
"He's my rock, life is not worth living without him," Kelli Swander said. "I just grabbed him and hugged him."
Ezra says the moment was surreal.
"To be back home with family, I can't even put into words," Ezra Swander said.
The homecoming was especially indescribable for this group of Kansas National Guard soldiers because the gift of Sunday's reunion, which originally was to come in January, was delivered just in time for Christmas.
"You wouldn't believe unless you are a part of it to see how many strings had to get pulled to make this happen," said Captain Scott Weber, Commander of the 170th Maintenance Company. "It's definitely a Christmas miracle."
Weber, who lives in Wamego, knows a thing or two about miracles. Sunday was not only his homecoming but a birthday for both his 13-year-old son and his 8-year-old son.
"It's impeccable timing," Weber said. "You can't beat that."
While it's the first homecoming like this for Weber and Swander, it's no less exciting for Herrington's Terrence Burgess who completed his third tour of duty.
"There are no words to explain how I feel right now besides the fact I get to go home and watch football!" Burgess said.
Watching football is one of the many things these soldiers are looking forward to doing. Although, they say it really doesn't matter what the activity is. What'll be most important is they'll get to do it with family this holiday season.
"It'll feel like the holidays, it will feel like home," Kelli Swander said. "It'll feel great that he's here."
Sunday, December 23, 2012
About 65 Kansas National Guard soldiers are scheduled to return home Sunday after spending a year in Kuwait.
The guard says that a welcoming home ceremony for the 170th Support Maintenance Company is scheduled for Sunday morning at the Salina Airport.
The unit provided security for American citizens, contractors and prominent visitors to Kuwait. The soldiers also supported military security as well.
The 170th is a unit of the 287th Special Troop Battalion based in Hays. The 170th has its headquarters in Norton.
KAKE's Jason Tarr is in Salina for the ceremony. Watch for the story on KAKE News at 5:30.