JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The planes soared onto the runways at Naval Air Station Jacksonvilleon Tuesday, bringing 42 military men and women home to the waiting arms of their families and friends after a six-month deployment.
Squadron VP-26 Tridents flew in to see a waiting crowd of loved ones, Some sailors had become fathers while deployed.
Ariella Butts was born while her father was serving his country. Her mother, Mercede, said, was waiting on the tarmac with a "welcome home" sign.
"It was hard at first, but with the support system, it was easy," Mercede Butts said. "It's great. It's unbelievable."
Ariella met her father for the first time on Wednesday.
John Fruge's wife was returning, too.
"The struggle is real. It's been about six months and it's been a learning experience, learning to do hair," Fruge said.
While families struggled at home to get along without their loved ones for half a year, the crew was busy breaking new ground in the air.
Squadron VP-26 performed the first-ever air-to-air refueling in Europe.
"It's pretty awesome flying. You're 20 to 30 feet away from a KC-135, taking fuel in the air, so it's a pretty neat thing and fun for the pilots," VP 29 Executive Officer Eric Andrews said.
The squadron executed 15 international detachments to 11 countries, including its first-ever detachment exercise in support of AFRICOM with the P-8A.
While the families were able to communicate using video chat, they said nothing beats the real thing.
"He ran right up to me and smiled, (It was the) best moment of my life," said Westly Bevelhymer, AWO2, NAS Jax.
Several other squadrons will be making their way back home at NAS Jax over the next week.