Hunter Soldiers to Return

It's an early Christmas present, and military families couldn't ask for anything better. Their loved ones are coming home. More than 100 soldiers from Hunter Army Airfield are expected home from Operation Iraqi Freedom around midnight. The 416th Transportation Company has been gone since March.

Even though their families were hoping they'd be back months ago, they're absolutely thrilled to have them home for the holidays. Hunter Army Airfield is all decked out for the holidays. Balloons, signs and Christmas trees fill Hunter's gymnasium.

Kathy and Dick Merz drove all the way from Cape Coral, Florida, to welcome home their daughter, Capt. Wendy Merz from her second deployment this year. "I have a great big red bow to put on top of her helmet," said Kathy. "She's my Christmas present."

"She was over there once before and we were real excited when she came back in July," added Dick. "Then, they sent her back over there and this is going to be even sweeter."

Siddiqua Champlin has been busy decorating the gym with her son, while waiting to welcome home her husband, Lt. Stephen Champlin. "It's a mixture of excitement and nervousness," she said. "It's hard to explain."

But after nearly nine months away, she and her son Saahir are both ready for him to come home. "I'm pretty excited," Saahir said. "I just haven't seen him in a long time. I guess I just miss having him home."

The homecoming is also bittersweet for these troops. Two soldiers, Sgt. Nathanial Hart and Spec. Ryan Carlock, were killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they will be very much on the minds of those here tonight.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com