RENO - Staff Sgt. Jamie Popp of Dayton clutched his youngest daughter's hand while, at the same time, hugging his oldest daughter.
After talking to family members and friends, Popp took a deep sigh.
"I'm extremely happy to be home with my family, but I had some anxiety getting back," said Popp, who is a full-time Nevada National Guardsman. "E-mailing made the separation easier, but it was difficult not to see them."
Likewise, 7-year-old Kaylee Popp said she missed being with her father. The second-grader at Sutro Elementary School said she helped her mother when her dad was away.
Popp and about 100 soldiers from the Nevada Army National Guard's 321st Signal Co. returned to Nevada on Wednesday after being deployed for 15 months. One year of the deployment was spent in Kuwait and southern Iraq installing, maintaining and operating state-of-the art communications equipment. For the past two months, the unit performed security operations.
Prior to leaving for Southwest Asia, the unit spent three months at Fort Lewis, Wash., refining their skills on force protection and their mission.
Popp's wife, Jaime, said she's relieved to have her husband home.
"It's been a very long year," she said. "I know the girls are happy to see their dad."
She and her mother-in-law, Penny Loveland, of Fallon kept a vigil for the Nevada Guardsmen.
"I'm thankful that he's home safe and sound, and I prayed for every day for him," Loveland said.
Becky Brown of Fallon, along with her 2-year-old son, Paeder, and in-laws, said the 15 months of deployment passed fairly quickly.
"It's wonderful that he's home," said Brown after she gave her husband a long hug.
Meanwhile, Paeder gave his father a long-stemmed rose.
Brig. Gen. Randall Sayre, commander of the Nevada Army National Guard in Carson City, told Guardsmen and their families the signal company's return was an emotional day.
"A young girl had a sign that said it all, 'Welcome home ,daddy,'" Sayre said.
Sayre said Gov. Kenny Guinn inquired regularly as to their welfare during the 15-month deployment.
He also thanked the Nevada congressional delegation for their support.
"You are today's heroes, and you will be those who train and engage tomorrow's heroes," Sayre predicted.
Sayre also said Guardsmen and families should keep other deployed Nevada units in their prayers. The Nevada Army National Guard has one unit currently serving in northern Iraq and a helicopter company recently deployed to Afghanistan. Two other units are performing stateside missions.
Lt. Col. Vernon Scarborough, battalion commander for the 4222nd Signal Battalion at Stead, has followed the unit from the time the pre-alert warning occurred in the autumn of 2003 to today's homecoming.
He expressed relief everyone from the unit arrive home safely.
"My biggest fear was getting a phone call in the middle of the night that someone was injured or killed. I never received that call."