Members of a Gulfport-based Coast Guard unit are relaxing at home tonight following a seven month tour of duty in the Middle East.
They helped protect American military supplies and guide Navy ships through dangerous waters.
Family and friends gathered at the Army National Guard base Thursday afternoon to give the returning troops an overwhelming welcome.
You may not associate the United States Coast Guard with war time duty. But members of Port Security Unit 308 were definitely in harm's way. They escorted military ships to a Kuwaiti port in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At Thursday's homecoming, hundreds of loved ones brought their flags and signs and smiles to the celebration.
Anxiety and nervousness increased as arrival time approached.
"It hasn't really sunk in. And I don't think it will sink in until I see the plane come down," said one Coast Guard wife, waiting nervously for her husband.
Loved ones endured the tense, final moments of a seven month separation. Flags and signs and hearts were ready. Emotions ran high as the plane taxied closer, engines at full roar.
Family and friends couldn't contain their excitement as their loved ones headed for open arms. Bay St. Louis firefighter, Rusty Schultz, was among the first.
"It was long, but it was well worth it. No matter what sacrifice you have to make, to put up with, it's well worth it when you get home," said Schultz.
Five month old Hanna seemed overwhelmed by the excitement. Her Coast Guard Daddy was all smiles over the newborn he's never held before.
"There's no word for it. It's amazing. I love it. She's beautiful," said a beaming Daniel Pahl.
Military homecomings are often marked by long embraces from loved ones who don't want to let go.
Barney Ingram said the welcome party was something special.
"It's overwhelming. That's the best you can put it. It's just overwhelming," he explained.
His wife was all smiles.
"It's been difficult. But through a lot of communication and a lot of support from PSU 308, we made it," she said.
Jordan Stafford stepped into a sea of hugs from the Wiggins welcome wagon. He's ready to party.
"Go home. Have a crawfish boil. That's what we're having. Oh yeah. Happy to be home," he said.
Home never looked or sounded so good.
"Oh, it's amazing. Amazing. Good to be home," said Schultz.
During the seven months in Kuwait, the group logged more than ten thousand hours on duty. That included 226 vessel escorts and ensuring the safe unloading of more than 125 thousand pieces of military cargo in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For pictures of the homecoming, log on to www.d8publicaffairs.com.