FORT THOMAS, Ky. - An Army Reserve unit based in Northern Kentucky returned to the Tri-State Sunday after being away from home for 11 months and serving nine months in Afghanistan.
More than 120 Army Reservists from the 449th Engineer Company marched past crowds of family, friends and appreciative supporters for a special homecoming celebration 7 p.m. Sunday evening at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Fort Thomas.
Yellow ribbons lined Fort Thomas streets, and the organizers of the homecoming asked people to hold miniature American flags in their hands and stand along Alexandria Pike, South Fort Thomas Avenue, Douglas Avenue and throughout Tower Park for a special procession.
The emotion of the day was more than many of the several hundred people in attendance could handle. Tears poured down the cheeks of many of those who spent the past 11 months praying and hoping for the safe return of their loved ones.
Leslie Absher was one of those who had a difficult time holding back her emotions. Absher is the wife of Capt. Travis Absher, who met his 6-month-old daughter, Lillian, for the first time Sunday.
"I'm beyond happy," Leslie Absher said. "He gets to have his daughter and I get to have my husband, and we get to have our family."
Capt. Absher echoed those sentiments and drove home how important it will be for him to catch up on the times and experiences he missed over the past year.
"Words can't describe the meaning, the feeling that I'm feeling right now," said Capt. Absher, who led a successful campaign that ensured every member of the 449th unit came home. "I'm just waiting to catch up, spend a little bit of lovely time with them."
While it was difficult for the Abshers to be physically apart during the last few months of Leslie's pregnancy and the first few months of Lillian's life, advancements in social media allowed them to stay up to date with the daily goings on in one another's life.
Capt. Absher was even able to witness his daughter's birth.
"The whole labor was Skyped, more of it than I wanted to be Skyped," said a laughing Leslie Absher. "But he got to see everything and if he couldn't be here physically, nothing compares to that."
Katherine Hulme is another Army wife who utilized social media to stay connected to her husband, Matthew, during most of his deployment, except when he and his team were on missions searching for roadside bombs.
Social media allowed the young married couple to remain close even after his deployment in May 2012, just a week after they were married.
Katherine Hulme, who works as an Army medic, said leading up to the event that she wanted to make sure that things felt comfortable and familiar for her husband when he returned home.
"You want it to be what they remember when they left," Katherine Hulme said Friday as she and many others prepared for the event. "Everything needs to be comfortable, but a little brighter and ready for them."
From detailing her husband's car to readying the house for his arrival to removing the blue star on her front door signifying she had a loved one deployed overseas, Katherine Hulme did her best to make sure everything was perfect leading up to homecoming.
Hulme and many of the several hundred friends and family members in attendance had their anxiousness extended for a brief time Sunday after the 4 p.m. start time was pushed back due to transportation issues getting from the airport. .
However, not even a nearly three-hour delay could undermine the emotion of the day.
"What was it like to see him walk out the door there? Amazing" Katherine Hulme said. "It was the perfect moment."
The Hulmes said they have some plans in the works but they're just looking forward to getting back to day-to-day life.
"We already have the second honeymoon thing planned out so that will be good for next weekend," Matthew Hulme said. "Otherwise it's just getting everything else reestablished at home."
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You can find out more about the event and welcome the soldiers home by visiting the reserve company's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/449-Engineering-Company-FRG/129747327083364
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