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By BRIAN HAWKINS
Heather Butler watched nervously as the plane taxied up to the main terminal at Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
One by one, the passengers began to disembark, and as each person walked down the stairs, Heather, her daughter, Cadence, 2, and numerous other members of her family watched with anticipation.
Then he appeared in the planeâ€™s doorway, the tears of joy began to flow, and Heather received what she says is the best Christmas gift possible â€” the safe return of her husband, Bryan, from Afghanistan, where he has been deployed for the past 10 months.
â€śI donâ€™t know how to describe it,â€ť said Heather, overjoyed to be reunited with her husband and have him see their daughter.
â€śItâ€™s been so long. Itâ€™s half of who you are not being here and trying to be a single parent. Iâ€™m just so ready to see him.â€ť
Bryan Butler, a member of the Marine Corpsâ€™ 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Co. based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., deployed overseas on March 8, and has been stationed at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistanâ€™s Helmand Province with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Bryanâ€™s journey home has been a long one.
He initially departed Afghanistan a week ago today and was delayed in Kuwait for a few days before flying to the United States with a stop in Ireland.
He was originally scheduled to arrive home Wednesday night, but had to spend a night in Texas after a missed flight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport prevented him from catching his connecting flight to Memphis, Tenn., and then to GTR.
As he walked into the terminal building Thursday afternoon, Bryan clutched a teary-eyed Heather in a long embrace and then held his daughter, who was a bit apprehensive about seeing a father she had not seen for several months.
A round of tearful hugs followed from his mother, Debbie Owen; brother and sister, William and Treasure Owen; his mother-in-law, Debbie Ingram; and other relatives.
In his hands, Bryan held two small Teddy bears for Cadence â€” one purchased during his stopover in Ireland and another dressed in military fatigues.
He, too, was glad to be home for Christmas.
â€śItâ€™s been a long time coming,â€ť Bryan said, placing his uniform â€ścoverâ€ť (cap) on his smiling daughterâ€™s head.
Cadence, however, was certain who brought her daddy home for Christmas, having spied the airplaneâ€™s flight crew wearing Santa Claus hats as the plane arrived at the GTR terminal building.
â€śSanta Claus w just brought Daddy on the plane,â€ť the little girl said.
Editorâ€™s note: In a few days, the Starkville Daily News will catch up with Bryan Butler about his experiences in Afghanistan. In the meantime, the newspaper staff wishes him, his loved ones and all military families a Merry Christmas.