It was an emotional welcome home for a group of 90 U.S. Army Reserve soldiers who arrived in Miami Monday after a stint in Afghanistan.
Soldiers with the 841st Engineer Battalion arrived for a tearful reunion with family just before 6 a.m. at the U.S. Army Reserve base in northwest Miami-Dade.
"I can't believe it, I must be dreaming. Pinch me! Pinch me!" Reservist Chantel Jean said, as she was reunited with her husband Nixon, a Marine who was also in Afghanistan and had come home earlier.
The soldiers had been scheduled to arrive Sunday but were delayed after their flight was canceled. Despite the delay, hundreds of family members were up before sunrise to greet their heroes.
"It feels real good to be home, very emotional to be home. I missed my family a lot," Medical Officer Ray Rakhar said, as he held his 3-year-old son. "It's time to hang out with the family, relax a little bit, take some time off before I go back to work again."
The battalion is credited with security and route-clearance missions and the largest troop-based construction project in the region, now known as Camp John Pratt, an official said.
The Army said the battalion was one of the first groups in history to launch multiple, successful direct-messaging campaigns to reach Afghan civilians. The campaigns included flyers, billboards and TV commercials.
Various members received combat action badges for their involvement in hostile confrontations with enemy forces including RPG and AK-47 fire, IEDs and other kids of indirect fire, an official said.
More than 26 of the reserve members remained in Afghanistan, likely until December, to manage operations.