03/26/12 — Nearly 300 Seymour Johnson AFB personnel welcomed back from Afghanistan

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Nearly 300 Seymour Johnson AFB personnel welcomed back from Afghanistan

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 26, 2012 1:46 PM

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Senior Airman Brandon Tyler Andrews wraps his arms around his 2-year-old son, Lucas, shortly after he returned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base after spending more than six months in Afghanistan.

Thomas Burkhart didn't take his wife's hand when a doctor told them they were having a little girl.

He wasn't there to feel his daughter kick for the first time -- to watch Meghan's belly grow.

"We found out I was pregnant the day before he left," Meghan said, grinning as she cradled the baby bump she had covered with a T-shirt that read, "I'm here to pick up my Daddy."

So moments after he stepped out of an aircraft and made his way toward the crowd that gathered early this morning outside a hangar on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the 4th Fighter Wing staff sergeant pulled his partner in for a long embrace.

And then, he kneeled down -- kissing the belly that looked far different than it did some 32 weeks ago.

"He hasn't felt her kick -- nothing -- so I'm just so excited," Meghan said. "And I'm finally getting big enough where I need help getting around."

A few days after smaller celebrations unfolded when aviators -- and the F-15E Strike Eagles they had commanded for the past six months in the skies over Afghanistan -- returned to Goldsboro, nearly 300 of the airmen who ensured those fighter jets provided an uninterrupted blanket of air support to Coalition forces on the ground received their own hero's welcome.

Proud parents shed tears as their sons and daughters came into view.

Children screamed and jumped up and down.

Like 3-year-old Palyn Sloan, who spent the moments leading up to her godfather, Airman 1st Class Colin Platt's, arrival waving a pair of American flags.

And 6-year-old Connor Jeffrey, who laughed as he was lifted onto the shoulders of his hero, Tech. Sgt. George Matthiessen.

But for one little girl -- a redhead wearing a pointy, pink hat -- there was more than just a homecoming to celebrate.

To Kyla Murtha, the master sergeant she was waiting on was more than just a father.

He was the perfect birthday present -- the one that matters more than any game or toy she could ever unwrap.

So with her mother, Becky, by her side, she waited along the flight line until she saw Patrick's face -- holding a sign no other airman could mistake for one made for them.

"Today is my birthday. I am five," it read. "My Daddy is home to party just in time."