FORT MYERS-- Tonight marks the first time in two years Airman First Class Eric Mascari's spent any portion of the holidays at home with family. But today, he was welcomed back with the sweetest of homecomings.
The 20-year old was greeted with open arms at RSW by family, friends, and even some strangers- there to celebrate a local serviceman's courage overseas.
Airman Mascari just finished his first deployment, serving 17-months at an Air Force base in Germany. He's expected to deploy again this summer, more than likely to Iraq or Afghanistan. But tonight, he's happy to be home and focused on family, during a much-needed month leave.
"It's unbelievable. It's been so long. I honestly couldn't be happier right now. It's great to be back for the holidays," Airman First Class Mascari said Thursday.
It took Mascari a total of 17 hours in travel time to get to Southwest Florida International Airport. But for another Fort Myers family, it took days to get the entire group together to celebrate Christmas. It took Shane Critser and family five days to get a flight into RSW, after a blizzard in the Northeast caused hundreds of flights to be canceled.
The family supposed to to fly from their home of Las Vegas, to Southwest Florida International. Instead, they ended up in New York City...stranded for days on end.
"Coming to the beach, all I packed was flipflops. So when you're in a foot of snow, it's kind of hard," Critser said Thursday.
The rest of the family here in Fort Myers Beach put traditions on pause.
"I cooked a week ago...had to cook again!" Pam Critser said, after waiting days for all her eight grandchildren to arrive.
That included opening presents. The kids somehow managed to follow these strict orders:
"We're going to wait. Stop begging. Stay away from them, don't look at the cards. Stay out of that room," 9-year old Mallie Critser explained.
But today, wrapping paper is finally flying, and a family is finally together. Despite celebrating Christmas five days late, the Critsers say they have everything they could want surrounding their tree.
"It feels great to be here, around family- finally. I'm glad they saved the Christmas meal for us. It's just good to be home, fianlly," Shane Critser said.