Christy Hendricks, of Dubuque, was anxious to see her son, Brady Meyers, return home Tuesday morning after more than 10 months apart during his deployment with the Iowa National Guard.
However, she was slightly perplexed by his desired celebration for the reunion.
“I’ve been less stressed since he’s been on American soil,” Hendricks said. “We’re just happy he’s home. Just spending time with him will be great. But I told him I would take him anywhere he wanted for lunch, and he said, ‘Pancheros.’ I was like, ‘What?’”
Meyers was among the about 130 members of the Iowa National Guard’s “Ironman” 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, that touched down Tuesday at Dubuque Regional Airport. They were greeted by about 200 cheering family members and friends.
The battalion supported Operation Spartan Shield in the Middle East. Most battalion members have been away from home for about 11 months.
Iowa National Guard Spc. Krysta Gerleman, of Decorah, Iowa, described the return as “the happiest she’s been in a while” after being reunited with her family.
“I was a little nervous this morning, but as soon as I saw them, I knew I was where I was meant to be,” Gerleman said of seeing her family again.
While the general public wasn’t able to attend the welcome-home ceremony due to COVID-19 concerns, family members — many donning red, white and blue face masks — gathered around the main airport doors to get a first glimpse of their loved ones.
As a group of bagpipers prepared to lead in the National Guard, someone in the crowd shouted “Way to go, families! We did it!” That prompted a loud cheer.
Many also filmed the Guardsmen’s arrival on their phones to preserve and capture the moment for others. For those who weren’t able to attend the welcome-home ceremony, the event was also livestreamed on Facebook.
Francesca Calderon, of Muscatine, Iowa, was waiting at the doors with a sign, adorned with garland and balloons, stating, “Here I am, just like I promised.” She was waiting for her boyfriend of one year, Tomas Abundis, to return. He has been overseas for most of their relationship.
“I’m really anxious to see him,” she said. “I just want to greet him and be with him again.”
While most families waited by the door to see the National Guard walk into the airport, some also gathered by a window to see them exit the plane. Marlys Carlson, of Stratford, Iowa, was waiting to see her daughter Stephanie Carlson walk off.
She noted that her daughter just celebrated her 30th birthday on Sunday and a big, belated celebration was planned.
“It just brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “I can’t wait to hug my soldier.”
After the National Guardsmen came through the airport and were formally dismissed, a mad rush to find family members commenced. Shouts rang out outside of the airport, and many there were glassy-eyed with tears during their reunions.
One such reunion was between Spc. Collin Kruse and his girlfriend, Lizzie Lake, of Cedar Rapids. They hugged each other tightly, with Lake shouting out, “You’re home! You’re home!”
“I’m better now, way better now,” Kruse said about his feelings following the reunion. “... I’ve been gone for 11 months now, and I’m just looking forward to going back to my normal life.”
1st Lt. Keegan Jacobson, of Burlington, added that he was excited to be back home and was looking forward to being with his children. His fiancee, Jenna Caffrey, kept him in a tight hug after finally seeing him again.
“Now that he’s back, we can finally start talking about (wedding plans),” she said with a laugh.