Happy homecoming at Lemoore Naval Air Station

FRESNO, Calif.

For many of these families, the holidays and anniversaries were especially tough. One mom left three teenage boys at home with grandma, and another newlywed says her husband's absence made their marriage stronger.

Rachelle Payne was already teary eyed as she waited for her husband, Jake. After spending their first anniversary without him, Thursday she was overjoyed and ready to celebrate.

"I'm really pumped, I didn't sleep for the past two days," said Rachelle Payne. "I had to force myself to eat breakfast this morning, I'm just so excited."

Doug, Sean and Shane Bryant are all teenagers. Their mother is a radar tech who had to leave her boys for the final deployment of her 20-year naval career. The boys said the last few weeks have been the most challenging part.

"It was pretty lonely, you know. Missing my mom," said Sean Bryant. "This is one of the first Christmases I've had without my mom, so it was pretty sad."

Doug Bryant said, "Just had to push through, thinking a couple more days, a couple more months, she's gonna be here."

After what seemed like forever, members of the Mighty Shrikes finally met their loved ones.

Jake had few words to describe the emotions. "A little surreal, I'm very excited."

Although the boys are too old to leap in their mom's arms, the hugs showed their happiness. Mom said she's missed a lot.

"I think it's the joking around and knowing that the little one grew up quite a bit since I was gone," said Regina Croft. "So we were almost right there and now he's towering over me."

For Rachelle, she's decided it's not too late to catch up and toast to everything that's passed while Jake was away.

"We're kind of going to celebrate everything at once," said Rachelle Payne. "I still have the Christmas tree up, still got presents under the tree so I'm just looking forward to getting to share those moments together again."

This six month deployment to Japan was easier than most since they able to communicate almost daily through the use of Skype. The squadrons 12 jets, along with the pilots are set to arrive this weekend.

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