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VIDEO: Home Sweet Home
The local soldiers are all safely back in the Flathead Valley
A member of the Montana Army National Guard 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion embraces his family after immediately returning home to Kalispell on Saturday. Dillon Tabish | Flathead Beacon
The airplane door swung open and a stream of soldiers emerged to a cheering crowd of more than a few hundred people. Families of young children, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, all rushed onto the tarmac to embrace their loved ones, home again.

More than 60 men and women in the local Montana Army National Guard 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion experienced an emotional homecoming on Sept. 21 at the Glacier Jet Center at Glacier Park International Airport.

The soldiers from across Northwest Montana are all safely back after spending nearly 10 months in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion was called up for active duty last year and departed Nov. 6, 2012. They spent six weeks training before traveling overseas to provide sustainment and logistical command support for America’s military forces.

“I’m more excited right now than I have been in a long time,” said Jamie Williamson of Libby, who waited anxiously for her son, 22-year-old Jacob Waynick, to step off the plane on Saturday.

A member of the Montana Army National Guard 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, draped in a Montana flag, embraces his daughter after returning home to Kalispell on Saturday. Dillon Tabish | Flathead Beacon

“I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Gov. Steve Bullock made the special trip from Helena with his young son Cameron. Bullock spent time with the local soldiers during his visit to the Middle East earlier this year.

“I told them when they got home I wanted to be one of the first to greet them,” Bullock said.

“This is important for all Montanans. They make incredible sacrifices and contributions. It was amazing hearing regular Army officers telling me they could not do what they were doing without our guardsmen and women. This is an incredible group of soldiers.”

As families rejoined together, the scene on the tarmac was filled with tears of joy and bright smiles.

Kristie Serrano, a specialist from Bigfork with the National Guard, left home only 10 days after her youngest daughter turned 1. She rushed through the crowd after departing the plane Saturday and discovered her family and young daughter, who was holding a sign that read, "My Army Mommy."

Serrano silently grasped her young one for several emotional moments.

“It’s been difficult,” she said afterward, struggling to describe the feeling of being back home.

A large band played triumphantly in the background, and flags flapped in the cool breeze as families anxiously mingled together.

Joe McDonald and Thomas Camel, a Vietnam veteran, drove from Ronan earlier in the morning with traditional tribal garments and instruments. Neither of the two men knew any of the soldiers returning home, but they still wanted to show up.

While the momentous occasion unfolded, McDonald and Camel performed two traditional Salish and Kootenai songs: a victory chant welcoming warriors back from battle and an honorary hymn praising the men and women for their sacrifices.

Looking out over the surrounding scene, Camel said, “There’s no words for it, but it’s a good, warm, lovely feeling.”

RELATED: Kalispell-Based 495th Begins Year-Long Deployment
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