11/14/12 — Back home for holidays

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Back home for holidays

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 14, 2012 1:46 PM

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Senior Airman Colton Collier, center, is met with tears and a hug from Jennifer Hostettler, left, and Samantha Hostettler, right, as he and other 4th Fighter Wing airmen return to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base early this morning after a several-month deployment overseas.

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Kilan McAllister, 2, holds a sign so his mother, Kimberly, will see him as she arrives back home this morning.

The computer screen didn't do her blue eyes justice.

Hearing about the moment she came into the world wasn't the same as being there as it unfolded.

But Andrew Hogan couldn't be at the hospital when his wife gave birth to their baby girl.

He hasn't been able to hold her in his arms -- or rock her to sleep.

Until this morning, the Air Force staff sergeant was halfway around the world.

So when, at just before 8, he and his comrades marked the end of a several-month deployment -- when he saw his wife, Molly, cradling his two-and-a-half-month-old daughter, Chloe Jane -- a smile crept across his face.

And when, moments later, he finally reached his family's side, he placed soft kisses on his first-born child.

Molly didn't seem to mind.

She had, after all, waited months to feel his touch.

So a few more seconds wouldn't hurt.

"It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do," she said about going through labor -- and first few months of Chloe's life -- without her husband. "But it was probably 10 times harder for him. I can't imagine having to wait so long to hold her."

Hundreds forged a biting cold and converged inside a hangar on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base just before sunrise to ensure they were there when their particular loved one touched back down on American soil.

And when officials informed the crowd that the plane carrying them had, at last, landed, the celebration moved outside.

Some held signs.

Others waved American flags.

Two-year-old Kilan McAllister, with a little help from his father, Thomas, did both.

But neither seemed to matter when he saw his "Mommy," Kimberly, approaching.

So the little boy started running -- stopping only when she lifted him into her arms.

Not too far away, another mother was reuniting with her children -- sobbing as she pulled them in close.

"I love you so much," she said, her voice cracking. "I'm just so happy."

Families, though, were not the only ones who turned out to welcome members of the 4th Fighter Wing home.

Allan Pedersen and others from the USO of North Carolina showed up with hot coffee and pastries -- with hands extended and thank yous waiting for those they characterize as heroes.

And members of the Guardian Brotherhood, a motorcycle club made up of active duty and former service members that was created by Seymour Johnson airmen, said they never miss an opportunity to pat a comrade on the back for his or her service.

Chloe Jane didn't notice any of them.

Her vibrant blue eyes were fixated on the father she had never met.

"He's talked to her, but most of the time, because of when he got off work, he was talking to a sleeping baby," Molly said. "She knows his voice, though."

And now that her daddy is home, she will finally know how it feels to be cradled in his arms.

More Seymour Johnson airmen are expected to return throughout the week.

And some, like those members of the 336th Fighter Squadron set to touch down this afternoon, will arrive in the F-15E Strike Eagles they have been commanding in foreign skies since this summer.