Families, friends welcome 297th Military intelligence Battalion back to Fort Gordon

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012

FORT GORDON, Ga. -- Siblings 7-year-old Mason Rayburn and 8-year-old sister Avery waited in a crowd filled with mostly camouflage to hug their father again.

It had been more than a year since they'd seen their father and since Tracie Rayburn had seen her soldier husband.

"Yeah, it's been hard," she admitted.

Deployments, however, are nothing new to the Rayburn family -- they've been through this four times. Mason says he's been waiting a long time to have his dad home.

Staff Sgt. Paul Rayburn is part of the 297th Military Intelligence Battalion. Friends, family and fellow soldiers packed a gym Thursday for a welcome home ceremony. The remaining 17 of the original group of 35 who deployed almost a year ago are happy to be back on American soil and in the arms of their loved ones.

Paul is excited "to spend time with my kids. I got to see them for the last year on the video camera, but it feels good to hold them and play with them. All they've wanted to do the past couple of days is jump on the bed with me."

Avery likes something else.

"Hugging," she said.

Avery held her dad's hand as the two walked together through the crowd.

"Where we were at, we had the good fortune of having some Internet," Paul said. "It wasn't good. It was worse than most have on their cell, but we were able to Skype."

Now he has fast Internet. And fast food. He's missed "everything."

"Not just any one food," Paul laughed. "Just ability to choose."

His commander can't talk about what he or his fellow soldiers were doing in Afghanistan, but he can say they tackled multiple missions and have an incredible ability to adapt, as do the families they left behind.

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