GULFPORT -- Lydia Phillips eagerly awaited the arrival of her husband, logistics specialist 3rd Class Braden Phillips, Friday afternoon. She chatted with friends as the couple's 3-month-old daughter, Sophia, lay in her stroller. Phillips said her husband had been deployed for seven months and has seen his daughter only once -- over Skype during her delivery.
"It's been really hard," she said. "But he's coming home today and he'll be home for at least a year."
Phillips was one of hundreds of friends and family members gathered Friday to greet about 280 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 as they returned to Gulfport. They lined the streets and held handmade signs and American flags as they waited for their loved ones.
The majority of the Seabees had been stationed in Rota, Spain. Some detachments were sent to Africa and other locales.
Never miss a local story.
Samantha DiFranco and her 2-month-old son, Michael, were there to see construction mechanic 2nd Class Andrew DiFranco walk off of the bus from the Gulfport Air National Guard base.
She said her husband has seen his son since his deployment but only for a brief time.
"He got to see him for a week," she said. "He just missed Michael's birth, but he did get to come home and change his diapers and help out for a few days."
DiFranco said it has been difficult while her husband was deployed.
"I've had help from family and friends and (the baby) helped make the time go by," she said.
The past seven months have been long for new-mother Courtney Lunceford. Her son, McKinley, will be 3 months old next week. But fortunately, her husband, electrician 2nd Class Andrew Lunceford, will be an active part of their lives.
"He came home for two weeks when McKinley was born, but we had to pay for it out of pocket," Lunceford said. "I feel bad because Drew's missing stuff because the boy is growing so much and he's advanced a lot in three months. But he's here now and he ain't going to miss anything."
Although there were several new mothers awaiting the new dads, there were also plenty of proud moms and dads with established families that walked off the buses and into the arms of loved ones.
"These superstars have a done a great job while we've been gone," Commander Kemit Spears said of the families. "But it's a great feeling to be home."
Andrew DiFranco was finally reunited with his family Friday afternoon. As he held Michael in his arms for the first time in months, he told his wife, "This feels amazing."