Updated: October 29, 2013 at 8:03 am
Amanda Kleinhans left Fort Carson on Monday with her heart a bit lighter and her left hand a bit heavier.
For her boyfriend, Staff Sgt. William Mikschl, the nine-month deployment the couple had just endured was the ultimate test of their relationship.
It was a test she'd been blissfully unaware of but passed with flying colors.
"I feel like I'm dreaming," said Kleinhans on Monday afternoon shortly after Mikschl had dropped to one knee and pulled a 1-carat princess-cut diamond ring out of his pocket.
"I wanted a deployment to seal the deal," Mikschl said. "I guess it's a soldier thing."
Mikschl was among nearly 350 soldiers from two units who returned to the Mountain Post.
He and about 250 soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division reunited with loved ones at a 3:30 p.m. ceremony.
Two and a half hours later, 100 soldiers with the 62nd Engineer Company, 4th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade got their homecoming ceremony.
Both units served nine months in support of the war in Afghanistan - the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, and the 62nd Engineer Company in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
During their deployment, soldiers of the 62nd Engineer Company worked with the 307th Engineer Battalion to clear routes in support of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
Soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team conducted security cooperation and joint exercises and training with members of the Kuwaiti military.
As Pamela Jarka waited for her son, Cpl. James Jarka, to return Monday afternoon, she sewed glittery red letters onto a gold welcome-home poster.
The poster wasn't for her son. It was for the father of a young girl sitting next to her, whom she'd just met. The glued-on letters were falling off, and Pamela Jarka had just the thing to reattach them: a needle and red thread.
Sewing was a good way to kill time and expend nervous energy while she waited, she said.
Even though her son spent his deployment in Kuwait, not Afghanistan, Pamela spent those nine months fraught with worry.
Her husband, retired Air Force Maj. Dan Jarka, didn't understand her anxiety.
"They were trained well, and I knew he could take care of himself," he said.
The deployment "was nothing for him," said Pamela Jarka, nodding toward her husband.
She shook her head and fought back tears.
"But it was everything for me," she said.
Jill Webb also fought back tears as she waited for her husband's return. Pfc. Brandyn Webb deployed to Afghanistan when she was two months pregnant. That day, the young soldier kissed her lips and her belly goodbye and said "see you soon."
But Jill Webb knew she might never see him again. "You try to prepare yourself for goodbye, but you can't," she said. "The drive home is probably the toughest part, and going to sleep alone is such a different feeling."
On Monday, Brandyn Webb returned to his wife - and to their newborn, Rusty, whom he had never met.
"I'm at a loss for words," the new dad said.
"It's the most amazing feeling."