Wives were anxious, kids were restless and in-laws wore big smiles.
The last hour of a 12-month deployment was a long one for family and friends awaiting the arrival of the Utah Army National Guard 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation unit.
About 300 supporters gathered Saturday at noon in a big hangar at the Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City. For the next 90 minutes, everyone was on pins and needles.
Jayci Healey was only 8 months old when her father, Sgt. Josh Healey, left for Afghanistan a year ago. Her mother, Amy, and Josh were married three years ago.
"It was a very hard time. You don't realize how hard until it really happens," Amy Healey said as she scanned the sky for two Air Force KC-135 tanker jets bringing Josh and his battalion home.
"It took me three months before I started sleeping," she said of her husband's deployment. "There is always that thought in the back of your mind that something could happen."
About 2,000 American men and women have been killed since Oct. 7, 2001, when the United States went to war in Afghanistan. Some 16,000 Americans have been seriously wounded.
About 130,000 NATO troops remain in Afghanistan.
Among them are 88,000 Americans. By the end of this year, U.S. troop strength should be reduced to 68,000, according to President Barack Obama's timeline.
Most American troops are scheduled to depart by the end of 2014.
Until then, American soldiers and their families will continue to make sacrifices, according to Amy Healey and others.
"Josh missed her first steps and her first words," she said of Jayci. "There is a lot of catching up to do."
Anita Scott waited nervously with her family and in-laws. Her husband, Warrant Officer Nathan Scott, was returning home from his third deployment the second since the couple were married four years ago. He has been deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan twice.
"Your life is literally on hold," Anita Scott said. "It's so hard. It's really challenging and taxing on the whole family."
They'll take a little time off with each other, she explained. But they need to find a house, and Nathan needs to find a job.
"We're just going to live life," she said, grinning.
The 2nd 211th took 65 soldiers and eight UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to Afghanistan.
They were stationed at Bagram Air Base in the Parwan Province. Their job was VIP transport flying generals and others to all parts of the war-torn country. All came back uninjured.
Denise Stark held her 3-year-old son, Daxton, on her shoulders while clutching a sign that read "Welcome Home Daddy."
During the past 12 months, Stark has started a nursing job, been a single parent and has had to hold down the home front. "I couldn't have done it without my friends and family," she said.
At the same time, she laments the moments lost with her husband, Sgt. Josh Stark, as Daxton has grown.
"We've been building a life without him," she said. "It seems like a year has been forever."
The crowd cheered as the planes landed and taxied to the hangar. Everyone seemed to swell with pride.
The aircraft doors finally opened and troops disembarked into the arms of loved ones.
But Denise Stark couldn't find Josh in the crowd. Panic swept across her face. "Where is he?" she blurted.
There he was. She ran to him and they embraced as in the movies.
"It's incredible," Josh Stark said, beaming. "A year is a long time to be gone."
After catching his breath, the sergeant contemplated the mission.
"The sacrifice is hard," he said. "But it's worth it. It's a very rewarding profession."