Veterans return home on holiday

TAMPA - Unrolling the "Welcome Home" banner she brought to MacDill Air Force Base for her dad, 8-year-old Brooke can't remember how long he's been gone.

"Three months or two?" she smiled. "Three? Two? I don't know."

More importantly, though, she does know exactly what she plans to do when he finally returns.

"I'm going to run to him and I'm going to give him a big, big hug," she said. "I miss him so much."

Brooke waited for about an hour Monday of her stepfather, TSgt. Ron Arroyo, to step off a large airplane at MacDill. He's one of about 60 reservists deployed on Labor Day to the Middle East to give aircraft maintenance support for operations in Afghanistan.

"You never know if he's coming home," said Brooke's mom, Gladys Rodriguez. "It's hard."

Since it was the first deployment for the family, the goodbye was unusually difficult for Arroyo.

"It was kind of hard for them, which made it hard for me," he said. "Usually I bite my lip and just keep going."

Brooke, her twin sister, and Arroyo's granddaughter decorated cards for him before he deployed. He taped them on his locker, and said goodnight to them every night.

Monday, those cards will finally talk back.

"Everybody coming off is special, but he's our special," Gladys said.

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