HINESVILLE, Ga. - A year spent flying over the Iraqi and Kuwaiti deserts apparently makes one as hungry and thirsty as it does tired and homesick.
Enough so that Florida Army National Guard pilot and Jacksonville resident John Green, fresh back from war Sunday, knew exactly what he wanted the first chance he got.
"Mexican food ... and a big margarita," Capt. Green said with a huge grin as he held his wife, Zinnette, close to his side.
Smiles and tears were the order of the day at Fort Stewart, the sprawling Army base near Savannah where Capt. Green and about 130 other members of the Jacksonville-based 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment returned from a tour in the war zone.
Headquartered at Cecil Commerce Center, the soldiers were welcomed back by about 200 family and friends. Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, also welcomed home his troops.
Capt. Peter Jennison, a pilot, was rushed by a half-dozen family members - father, mother, two brothers, an aunt and grandmother - all wearing matching yellow "Welcome Home Peter" T-shirts.
Capt. Jennison's mother, Cheri Jennison of Ocala, was in tears before, during and after the reunion with her son, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach.
"You are so skinny, dear," she told him.
"I lost 6 pounds," he said.
It had been a grueling deployment, Peter Jennison told the Florida Times-Union.
"It was just long," he said. "We're all civilians, and it's a year overseas plus four months to get ready."
The trip home seemed just as endless, he said.
The unit left Kuwait on Friday and stopped in Hungary, Ireland and Newfoundland before arriving in Georgia.
While in Kuwait and Iraq, the battalion led a task force that included a number of other coalition aircraft. Altogether, they flew more than 4,000 sorties and racked up close to 11,000 flight hours, said the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ben Lacy.
The group was preceded in its homecoming by its detachment that flies medical evacuation missions. The soldiers who returned home Sunday fly support missions, such as transporting commanders to and from the battlefield.
Lt. Col. Lacy said the unit's next mission will be to regroup and begin preparing to support various missions in Florida, including hurricane relief and other tasks designated by the governor or president.
In his welcoming statement, Maj. Gen. Burnett said the unit lived up to the tradition of the citizen soldier answering the nation's call to arms.
He also thanked family members for supporting their uniformed loved ones.
The soldiers will remain at Fort Stewart about another week before returning to their jobs and homes in Florida, Lt. Col. Lacy said.