Walking toward baggage claim at Augusta Regional Airport, Michael Austin briefly removed his camouflage hat before pointing at eight family members.
“I’ve missed a lot,” the Grovetown resident said Wednesday evening. “There’s no other way to put it … I’ve missed a lot.”
A couple of the most important things he missed were waiting for him when he stepped off Delta Flight 5520.
Two of his five grandchildren at the airport – 6-month-old Grayson and 4-month-old Liam – were born during Austin’s latest deployment, his fourth since retiring
from a 21-year Army career in 2001.
From June 2013 to July 2014, Austin worked in Afghanistan as a field software engineer contractor.
“I’m just so thankful to have him home,” said his wife, Cathryn. “Our youngest daughter, Emily, got married and had her first child all during the 13 months he was overseas. I’m happy for his job, but at the same time it’s
very tough not having him at those moments.”
For Emily Mayfield, the thought of not having her dad around “didn’t sink in” during her pregnancy. It wasn’t until she laid eyes on her son that reality hit.
“The first time I looked at Grayson, I lost it,” she said. “I mean, I boo-hooed. I
couldn’t believe how much he looked like daddy.”
As the youngest of Austin’s seven children, Mayfield has counted down her dad’s arrival since giving birth.
“He’s seen Grayson through FaceTime and Skype, but it’s obviously not the same,” she said. “This moment is very special.”
Added Austin: “For six months, everyone told me that Grayson and I looked exactly alike. Even my in-laws said they noticed an immediate resemblance.”
The 52-year-old said Wednesday night helped recover lost time.
“Holding both grandsons in my arms is something I’ll never forget,” he said. “I’m having trouble putting my feelings into words … it just means so much to finally be able to meet them. It’s been too long.”
Technology let Austin interact with family during his time overseas, but nothing prepared him for the welcoming he received Wednesday night.
Just inside the main entrance of Augusta’s airport, Austin was greeted with handwritten posters, balloons and stuffed animals from loved ones.
Mayfield’s sign read: “Keep calm we are meeting Papa for the first time.”
“It’s all wonderful,” Austin told his family. “Everything. I can’t describe how thankful I am to be home.”