Utahns enjoy tearful reunions as soldiers return from 11-month deployment

SALT LAKE CITY -- It was an emotional homecoming Friday afternoon as service men and women from the 101st Airborne stepped off the plane after serving nearly a year in Iraq.

Nearly 50 troops from the Utah Army National Guard came home Friday afternoon. Hundreds of family, friends and loved ones gathered to welcome them. Each soldier has their own story of sacrifice they've made during the past year.

“It's hard for him because he's missed out on so much already,” said Whitney Stanger.

Little Magnolia was born while her dad was serving in Iraq

“It's a long time doing everything on your own,” Stanger said.

Whitney Stanger found out she was pregnant just days after her husband left for the yearlong deployment.

“He says like, 'Oh my gosh, I’m not going to feel your belly while I’m gone'. That's my favorite part, he was pretty devastated, he'll be really excited to meet her,” Stanger said.

Cheers filled the air at the Wright Air National Guard Base as a blur of camouflage took over the crowd. For the first time in 11 months, families were able to hug and hold their heroes. Finally Magnolia's dad stepped off the plane. Richard Stanger held his baby girl for the first time.

“Come here Maggie, oh, you're so beautiful,” said Richard as he kissed his daughter's head.

This is just one of many stories of sacrifice that troops and their families in the 101st Airborne made during the past 11 months.

“It's just refreshing to come home and see my family with my eyes and be able to actually hold them and touch them,” said returning soldier Daniel Romney.

Kids, now inches taller, were learning new words and growing up, all while the troops were gone.

“It was absolutely fantastic seeing my boys,” said returning soldier Clayton Buck. “They have grown a ton. They are heavy, they are heavy.”

“I've been waiting for this day for the past year, so it's awesome beyond words, it's indescribable,” said Nathan Cruse, another returning soldier.

Troops who spent the past year serving their country to protect their family's future are now happy to be home to enjoy each moment

“I think she looks like her mommy, I think I like her eyes; they're beautiful,” Richard Stanger said.

While these troops come home, others are leaving their families for months to fill that deployment. A humbling reminder to thank those who serve.