Published: September 19, 2013
The blonde twins bounced, shuffled and swayed in their prettiest sundresses on Peterson Air Force Base's flight line Wednesday afternoon.
Just feet away, a massive C-130 Hercules taxied toward them, its engines roaring.
The sight of the behemoth was the final straw. Standing still became impossible for 9-year-old Kurstin and Haley.
Daddy was in the belly of that plane.
Daddy was coming home.
When their mom, Patty Anthony, whispered "Go ahead," the duo bolted toward their dad, Reserve Senior Master Sgt. Dan Anthony. He embraced his wife tightly before the kids piled on.
"This is long overdue," the airman said as his wife, the twins, and sons Tucker and Zach huddled near him.
Anthony was among 150 active-duty and Reserve airmen who returned to Peterson Air Force Base on Wednesday after a four-month deployment to southwest Asia.
While deployed, the airmen, from the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, flew C-130s on hundreds of missions, transporting cargo, troops and wounded warriors.
Since 2010, the active-duty airmen of the 302nd have deployed dozens of times on such missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The unit's Reserve airmen have deployed three times since Sept. 11, 2001.
For many returning Reserve airmen, the deployment was a first.
The military had taken Reserve Senior Airman Mike Boucher away from his wife, Melinda, and 11-year-old son, Anthony, for long periods of time before.
But never into a combat zone - until May.
During combat deployments, "you're always aware that something could happen," said Boucher, who reunited with his wife, son, mother and sister Wednesday on the flight line.
After Boucher deployed, things didn't go so smoothly at home, he said.
The water heater exploded. The family's home flooded. The car had issues.
"My wife has weathered the storm," he said. "It was frustrating because I wasn't there to help her with those things."
But those misfortunes seemed like small potatoes Wednesday. Boucher's grandfather, a Vietnam veteran battling cancer, recently was hospitalized.
On Wednesday, he was in critical condition.
Boucher had asked his wife to bring a flag his unit had flown over Afghanistan and a deployment coin with her so the newly reunited family could head straight from the flight line to the hospital.
"I'm told he's able to understand but can't open his eyes," Boucher said.
He moved a fist over his mouth, and his voice broke.
"I'm hoping he's not holding out just until we get there," he said. "I hope to get more time with him."