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Hundreds of Fort Gordon soldiers return home to family, friends

Reunion at Fort Gordon

Brandi Smith and her 10-month-old daughter Kensleigh were reunited with husband and father Sgt. Ryan Smith when he returned to Fort Gordon Monday. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 15, 2011)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Aug. 15, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- More than 100 soldiers returned home Monday to a gym full of family and friends.

For these family, friends and soldiers it's been months since they've seen their loved ones. They're just ready to go running right into each others arms.

Brandi Smith and her 10-month-old daughter, Kensleigh, are bursting with excitement.

"I've got chills just thinking about it right now, I can't even describe the feeling," she said.

We first met Brandi in August of 2010, nine months pregnant and saying goodbye to her husband Sgt. Ryan Smith.

"I love you baby," said Brandi as she blew a kiss to the camera in 2010.

She's been waiting for this day ever since.

"I can't wait to hug him and smell him, even though he's going to stink because he hasn't showered, I wanna smell him," Brandi said.

And finally, they have their moment.

It's only the second time Ryan has seen his daughter.

"It was amazing, being able to see my daughter for the second time, you can't explain it," Ryan said. "It's hard for a lot of people to understand and I don't really think you can explain it, but it's just an amazing feeling to be back with them."

Family after family reunites, embracing after the months of being apart.

"I ain't seen my family is so long, I ain't seen this little guy in so long, so I'm glad to be back," said Sgt. Elcania Morrison about his son Xzaviaer.

The soldiers entered the Fort Gordon gym to deafening applause and cheers.

"They're proud of us, they're proud of their family members and their spouses, their sons and daughters. It feels good, it makes you feel like -- I'm proud of what I do. I'm proud I went out there to serve my country," Morrison said.

Making the miles and miles a little more bearable.

"A lot of long days and a lot of sweat, but it's worth it in the end," Ryan said.

"I mean, he's just my best friend and he's gonna be wrapped around her little finger," laughed Brandi.

While Monday's ceremony was special for so many families, it was simply heart-wrenching for another.

You may remember Sgt. John Burner died in Iraq last September. He got sick and wasn't able to get medical attention from the clinic in time. Army doctors say he suffered Vein Thrombosis and died in his barracks.

Burner was a member of the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, and Monday would have been his welcome home ceremony as well.

His wife Verena Burner bravely fought back tears as the men and women entered the gym and then held a moment of silence for the fallen soldiers.

Verena says an investigation into her husband's death showed at least two people were recommended for punishment because of the way it was handled. Burner was buried last October in Arlington National Cemetery.

These soldiers are members of the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, making them experts in setting up communication networks.

The troop has been deployed to the Middle East four times. For some soldiers, it was their first welcome home ceremony, for others it was their third or fourth.

The 63rd was in Iraq supporting the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood.

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