"He only got to see her on Web cam. It was tough."

Alyssa Santos
Fiancee of Sgt. Brandon Gulley, about their 5-month-old daughter, Rachel

Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks returned from Iraq yesterday, reuniting with friends and family in a ceremony at Wheeler Army Airfield. After picking up his gear, Mario Maro, above, walked hand in hand with his son Steven.

Home safe

Families reunite with
more than 200 2nd Brigade
Combat Team soldiers

For more than a year, Tanya Neil heard the same question: "When's Daddy coming home?"

And it took a lot of disappointing "not today" answers until Neil could finally give her three children an encouraging one.

"It won't be much longer," Neil told her kids -- ages 4, 7 and 11 -- in a whisper, minutes before a homecoming ceremony yesterday at Wheeler Army Airfield for Spc. Michael Neil and more than 200 other 2nd Brigade Combat Team soldiers who had just returned from a year-long deployment in Iraq.

The batch is the biggest from the 2nd Brigade Combat to return from the war.

About 3,000 members have gotten back to the islands in smaller numbers, while about 300 remain in Iraq.

Robert Klein got hugs from daughters Emma, left, and Cady.

The soldiers got to the base about 5:30 p.m., marching in formation into the hangar where their family and friends waited while a military band played the "Rocky" movie theme "Gonna Fly Now."

As the soldiers entered, screams and shouts erupted from the audience, in a cordoned-off seating area. Some waved flags or homemade signs that read, "Welcome Home Daddy."

Once the ceremony was complete, family members rushed to waiting soldiers, draping them with leis and showering them with kisses and hugs.

There were more than a dozen leis around Spc. Shane "Shaka" Kahuanui's neck as the Palolo resident talked with family in the hangar about the latest Hawaii happenings, including the Pro Bowl.

His two children sat in the crook of his arm, holding on tight.

"I'll be sleeping this (deployment) off for a while," Kahuanui said as he and his wife headed to their car.

More than 200 members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division got an emotional welcome home yesterday at Wheeler Army Airfield after a year-long deployment in Iraq.

Sgt. Jose Cabian and his wife, Kelly, snuck a kiss before they headed for the door.

The soldier said his big plan for the coming days and weeks was getting reacquainted with his 1-year-old, who he had last seen when she was 4 days old.

"It's been too long," Cabian added, peering at his child over the sunshade of her buggy.

A few of the returning soldiers met their infant children for the first time yesterday, including Sgt. Brandon Gulley.

His daughter, Rachel, was born five months ago. "He only got to see her on Web cam," said Gulley's fiancee, Alyssa Santos. "It was tough."

In the parking lot, soldiers got into cars with paint on the windows -- courtesy of their families -- that read, "Welcome Home ... At Last" and "Veteran on Board."

Staff Sgt. Andrew Stephens, on the other hand, drove away in a brand-new car, complete with a red bow.

Stephens' wife, Taylor, had traded in her sedan to get her husband a 2005 Chevrolet Tahoe. "He's wanted it for a while, and I think he's worth it," she said before going into the ceremony with her 3-year-old son.

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