Cameron Gall waited patiently inside a hangar aboard Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for his father's return Monday night.
It's been more than six months since he's been able to play sports or attend scouting events with his dad by his side. And he's missed having a father to talk to about things only an 11-year-old boy and his father would understand.
But Monday night, he was the lucky one -- the oldest of three boys fortunate enough to be on hand to welcome home his father.
"I'm happy," Gall said. "I miss him."
Chief Jason Gall, of the 336th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, was one of 200 members of 336th Fighter Squadron supporting units -- primarily maintainers and support personnel -- who returned to American soil Monday following a six-month deployment to an undisclosed location in southwest Asia.
The 336th Fighter Squadron and supporting units were deployed last year in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
"We got our mission done," Gall said. "It was awesome."
As Cameron held tight, his father said it was difficult being away but the support of loved ones made the mission easier.
"It feels great to be home," Gall said. "It's always tough to be away from my family but they're so supportive. They make that piece easier."
The airmen, which arrived at Seymour Johnson aboard a Boeing 747 around 10 p.m., were transported across the flight line in six buses before being reunited with loved ones around 11 p.m.
In the crush of hundreds of airmen, Tech. Sgt. Manny Baca, of the 4th Maintenance Group, held tight to his 11-month-old daughter Gabriela as his wife smiled through tears of the long-awaited homecoming.
"It was rough," his wife, Brenda, said, just moments before his arrival.
After months of keeping in contact "every single day" through Facebook Messenger or an iPhone app -- where Gabriela first learned to say "Daddy" -- Brenda was ready "to be a family again."
"Everything else will fall into place eventually, but just having him home -- that's the biggest thing right now," she said.
Like many others, Brenda counted the number of days he was gone.
"One hundred and eighty-nine," she said.
Anne Wagner also counted the days but knew her husband, Senior Airman Randall "Jake" Wagner, with the 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, would return.
"In my heart and gut, I knew it," she said.
Wagner waited with a handmade poster that included pictures of the couple, a promised return and the number of days -- 189.
"I'm ready for him to be back," Wagner said. "It kind of feels surreal.
"I guess the anticipation of waiting so long for this day to happen, and it's finally here."
Staff Sgt. Lindsey Scaggs, with the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said the homecoming brought a mix of emotions, with fellow airmen returning to base.
"I know these families serve just as hard as men and women in uniform do," Scaggs said. "We couldn't do what we do without the support of the families.
"We're just ready for everybody to be back. I'm completely humbled and proud to work next to these people."