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223 Guardsmen return home

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - It was a hero's welcome complete with a water salute and red carpet rollout for the 223 Guam Army National Guard soldiers who touched down at the United hangar in Tiyan just after 12:30 this morning.

With the glimmer of blinking lights in the distant night sky, hundreds of families lined the runway, anxious to greet their returning hero.

Among them, Jadine Duenas awaiting her big brother, Sgt. Javis Duenas.

"He's my oldest brother. I'm the only girl. So I was always used to him protecting me," she said.

And for the last nine months, Sgt. Duenas continued his big brother duties - not at home, but from Afghanistan.

"I appreciate everyone else. And all the other families who have their loved ones out there to protect and serve our island."

Also waiting among the crowd, Pat Munoz sat comfortably in a foldup chair holding a life-size cutout of her hero.

"I'm waiting for my son-in-law Specialist Glen Asprec. I cannot wait and I'm so happy that he's coming back to Guam," Munoz said.

By Munoz's side, flaunting a camoflouge dress and yellow sash with her husband's name, wife Cassandra Asprec tells KUAM she can't wait to have her man back in the house before he returns to his duties as an officer with the Guam Police Department.

She said, "We're so proud of him and we're so happy that he's coming home. Finally. We waited so long. And we just can't wait until we have him back into our arms."

With minutes to go until the plane's anticipated arrival, Maria Duenas and her three children reminisce on the last year without their soldier, Staff Sgt. Garrett Duenas.

"He was the first one to leave and the last one to come home," she said.

Staff Sgt. Duenas was deployed since Februrary putting a strain on his wife who took on double duty.

"I'm the mom and dad. And I have to try and tackle everything. But with my in-laws support and my parents support, they helped me out through this and also my friends and family," she said.

while some are new to deployment, others are all too familiar, including Rose Mesa waiting on her son, Spc. Jacob Penaflor.

"My family has been all about deployment. I deployed. My daughter in the Air Force deployed. My son in the National Guard, my older one, deployed. And my youngest of my first marriage, he deployed," she said.

And with the plane now visible in the night sky - months of waiting boiled down to this moment as one by one, soldiers reunited with their loved ones in long embraces, including Sgt. Javis Duenas who says he's ready to play catch up with 3-year-old daughter Meiko, now clinging tightly to his neck.

"It's been almost a year of being gone and coming home to this this, it's the greatest feeling," he said.

Also happily reunited, Spc. Glen Asprec struggled to hold back tears as his body trembled from all the excitement.

"It's a blessing to be back home and I was proud to serve Guam and our nation and its wonderful to be home," he said.

And after almost a year's wait for daddy, Staff Sgt. Garrett Duenas, 6-year-old Francesca couldn't wipe the smile off her face.

But what's a Guamanian welcome home without delicious food? As Spc. Jacob Penaflor holds onto his camera-shy wife, he tells KUAM he's ready to hit the fiesta table.

"I'm very excited. It's been very long. And now we're home. And it's time to eat all the stuff that I told everyone I'm going to eat. The kelaguen. The kadu. I'm gonna go diving. I'm going to race my truck and I'm going to spend so much time with my beautiful wife right here. She's so shy," he said.

This morning may have marked the second wave of returning soldiers, but according to Guam Army National Guard spokesperson Josephine Blas, 18 soldiers remain at Camp Shelby to assist with logistics while 42 others have been transported to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii for additional medical treatment. Another 16 soldiers arrived prior to the first wave of returning soldiers two weeks ago while 14 augmentees originated from other states and 9 from previous units who chose to extend in the country.

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