HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hangar 105 at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe erupted into cheers when a plane full of more than 100 marines and sailors disembarked around 7:30 Friday morning.
It's the day marines of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron HMH 362 have been waiting for - a chance to stop holding their weapons, and instead, hold loved ones.
"Feels great, said Captain Michael Sedrick holding two of his four children in his arms. "It's something you think about everyday for 7 months. And to finally get home and do it. It's very surreal at times. Feels good though."
For some, it's the first time they'll hold their children.
"I'm speechless right now, said Sergeant Salvador Duenas holding 5 month old daughter, Ayanna Gisel. "It's amazing. It's a great feeling. I'm happy to be home."
"I can't describe it," sighed Duenas' wife Bianca as she watched her husband hold their baby who was born while he was deployed. "It's amazing. I've been waiting for this, since the day she was born.
And all of the returning service members are glad to be home alive after moving troops and equipment on CH 53-D Sea Stallion helicopters inside Afghanistan's dangerous Helmand province. Especially, Staff Sergeant Andrew Peterson who's expected to receive a Purple Heart next week for being wounded in action.
Peterson held his 8 month old son, Gavin, as he recalled the event.
He said he was the acting right gunner and crew chief just 18 days into the deployment when he was shot by the enemy while his crew was extracting ground marines that they'd inserted early to conduct a drug raid on suspected Afghan compound.
"In route, we got word that they were taking fire," recalled Peterson. "So, we knew we were kind of going into a somewhat dangerous situation. And (we) landed on the ground, the marines started coming into the helicopter and all of sudden I got..it just felt like I was punched in the back, and I knew immediately what it was."
Peterson's wife, Renee, was notified by an early morning call at 3 o'clock in the morning.
"I was very worried and concerned," said Renee.
"I dont really feel like I was a hero," said Peterson. "I was just doing my job under an extraordinary situation and relied on my training and got done, what I needed to get done."
The "Ugly Angels" Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel, Christopher Oliver, said, "The Taliban aren't our friends and they're not the Afghans friends either." Fortunately, he said they didn't lose anyone to enemy fire.
"Extremely proud," said Oliver. "The Marines are doing things that matter and we're giving the Afghans an opportunity to have a future. It's not easy. And the key is they want the same type of freedoms that we do."
HMH 362 is the last heavy helicopter squadron from MCBH to deploy to Afghanistan. Its also the last aviator squadron to deactivate its use of the CH 53 "D" models. Those types of aircraft are now being shipped to museums around the country, as the current CH 53-E Super Stallions take over and "K" versions may be activated in the future.
"The helicopter flew for over 40 years for the Marine Corps," said Lt. Colonel Oliver. "The tax payer got their money's worth out of the helicopter, but as we move forward into the future, there's more capable helicopters coming online, and the Marine Corps is moving forward."
These returning marines and sailors plan to take some much-earned leave now, but then they'll come together once again as a squadron on November 30th.
That's when they'll officially deactivate the squadron here in Hawaii. But officials say, in about 4 to 5 years, the "Ugly Angels" will be flying once again, but at that time, be operating out of New River, North Carolina.