Several soldiers from the California Army National Guard's 649th Military Police Company out of San Luis Obispo arrived in Fresno, Thursday morning. Among them, was a couple who spent nearly a year in Afghanistan carrying out one of the Army's most dangerous missions.
The families of Samuel and Erika Aldana anxiously waited for the couple to step off the plane at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport and watched them make the long walk down the hallway until they finally reached them in the airport lobby. Some of them sobbed as the Aldana's made their entrance into the room.
"Amazing, it feels great to be home," said Sgt. Erika Aldana.
The Army Sergeant and Corporal from Madera spent the last year in Western Afghanistan doing a very dangerous job. They provided convoy security for a transportation company out of Oroville. Twelve soldiers from their 44-member platoon received purple hearts, a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed in combat. The Aldana's left behind their two year old child to complete their mission.
"It's hard to be away from our daughter, but it's good that we went together and had each other for support," said Erika Aldana.
"It's stressful when she's in certain situations and I'm in certain situations, danger or whatever, but other than that it was good," added Samuel Aldana.
Other soldiers shared that sentiment, like Army Specialist Jesus Gomez. His family and friends from Parlier welcomed him home with banners and balloons bearing his nickname Chuy. He said it was good to be back in California after spending the last nine months serving his country on his second tour of duty.
"I'm really happy I made it back for the holidays to spend time with family and friends," said Gomez. "When we left it was pretty cold so I'm glad to be back in California."
To these soldiers, being back on American soil with their loved ones is the greatest gift of all.
"It feels really good," said Erika Aldana. "Luckily we were relieved in time to get here for Christmas."
Another three soldiers returned home Thursday afternoon. The California Army National Guard said another 200 soldiers with the 1072nd Transportation Company are expected to come back at the end of January.