Florida National Guard troops return home for the holiday thanks to generous donations
1:03 PM, Dec 24, 2013
2:05 PM, Dec 24, 2013
After an eight month deployment and serious doubts over how they would get home, nearly 100 Florida National Guardsmen and women returned home just in time for the holiday.
The last time Natalie Welch saw her husband National Guardsman Sgt. Ryan Welch, was 8 months ago, and their son was just one week old.
"It's been really hard. This whole deployment has been really hard," she said.
He was able to communicate with his family and son via Skype from the Middle East, but it still wasn't the same without dad being there for his son.
"The hardest part was seeing him do his firsts, all of his firsts. Like sitting up for the first time, babbling for the first time, him saying 'mama,'" Natalie said.
Sgt. Ryan Welch, like 99 other men and women in Florida National Guard's 3rd Battalion and 116th Field Artillery Regiment were part of a Christmas surprise to their families at the Florida Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds in Plant City.
Over the weekend they had come back to the states after nearly 8 months of deployment in Qatar, but while they were back, they were not in Florida, instead they were in Mississippi.
They were granted four days of leave for the Christmas holiday.
Families and the community rallied together to raise the nearly $35,000 dollars needed to charter buses to make the trip back to the Bay area.
As they stepped off the buses, family members scrambled towards them.
After a brief moment of searching, Natalie Welch finally found her husband. They embraced, as any couple who has spent 8 months apart would embrace.
Sgt. Ryan Welch also got to see how much his son has grown.
"It's different. It's definitely different. His eyes are open. It's amazing," Welsh said as he held his son Jason.
He, and the other families were finally glad to be back as one.
"It feels great. I've been waiting for this for 8 and a half months now," he said.
And it's a holiday they're making sure they won't soon forget.