COLUMBIA, S.C. -- More than 160 soldiers with South Carolina National Guard are home tonight after a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
They arrived Friday afternoon, following a two week de-mobilization at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Beneath the Eagle Aviation hangar at Columbia's Metropolitan Airport, several hundred came out braving the humidity and heat in anticipation of their arrival.
"I'm ready for him to come back," said Matrina Lowe, as she waited holding a big welcome sign, admittingly getting emotional thinking about the reunion.
"It's tears of joy, we haven't seen each other in a year, and we had been married three years, so our second anniversary wasn't together," said Lowe.
"I just missed them, this is the longest, I've ever been away from them," said Cpl. Melvin White as he whisked his three children and wife in his arms after the brief ceremony.
With U.S. troops expected to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014, many understood the significance of their mission.
Along with helping build and clear roads, troops provided logistical patrols to maintain vital operations in a time of rebuilding.
The 178th Engineers lead critical missions, as part of the Task Force Prowler.
Soldiers also mentored and taught critical engineering skills to members of the Afghan National Army, in preparation of the transition.
The unit also assisted in the dismantling of the forward operating base, named after Pat Tilman, the former Arizona Cardinals player. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan following his post 9/11 enlistment.
"It's good to be home, it was a good mission and everybody was proud and we are just glad to be there," said Brian Longcaric of Clover.
His wife Candice, could not help but reflect on the sacrifices made over the year.
"We had our struggles, our trials and everything, but we made it through it. It's been a really long journey, and I am so glad it is over," she said.
Corporal Jeffrey Wilinson met his 7-month nephew, Lucas for the first time.
His twin sister, Amanda, served in the same battalion up until last year when she left to start a family.
Wilkinson considered himself lucky to have been last deployed in Kabul with Amanda, who was stationed just ten minutes away.
This time, he was anxious to get home, saying the tour was different. "No one to really talk to because she is family."
Commander of the 17th Engineer Battalion, Lt. Col. Corol Dobson wished his team success in their transition to civilian life.
He commended their service, and said he was overwhelmed by the show of support from loved ones who made the tour possible. "I felt like a rock star, it was Bon Jovi coming here," he said.
Currently, there are more than 800 South Carolina Army Guard Soldiers deployed and more than a dozen S.C. Air Guard members deployed overseas.