ARCADIA, Fla. -- Dozens of American heroes are back from deployment, and only WINK News was there as the Florida National Guardsmen and women in Arcadia hugged their families for the first time in months. They're home just in time for Christmas.
The soldiers deployed in February. They were providing security at U.S. military installations in Qatar. They're with their families for a few days, thanks to a social media campaign started by Gov. Rick Scott, which raised more than $35,000 to bring them home.
Joshua Schlotmann is finally able to hold his two month old baby girl. His wife Alyssa never took his tags from around her neck. "I'm glad he has time to spend with her now, that's really all I wanted was her first Christmas, her daddy home," Alyssa said.
Schlotmann's father Mark couldn't wait to put his arms around his son, in an emotional reunion.
"I've been ready to come back 9 months ago. I'm glad to be back home. Just excited to see the family, spend Christmas with them. Thought we were going to miss it," said Schlotmann, who's wife drove from Naples to pick him up in Arcadia.His parents are visiting from Illinois.
Schlotmann is one of 300 Florida National Guard soldiers returning to the U.S. just in time for Christmas.
Some came back to Arcadia, others returned to Lake Wales and Plant City.
WINK News has been following their story from the beginning.We were in Arcadia as the soldiers deployed in February on their way to Qatar to provide security in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
This Christmas Eve, Cynthia Davis couldn't let go of her son. "It's like waiting to exhale. Because you know when they go overseas to serve their country, you never know if they're going to come back. You just pray," said Davis.
For these families, this is the best Christmas present of all. "I'm just going to put a bow on him, and say merry Christmas!" laughed Davis. "That's what I'm going to do!"
The soldiers are on a 4-day holiday pass. They're able to spend a few of those days with family and then head back to their training center in Mississippi to complete their final demobilization process.