March 31, 2011 -- Last December, Marine Sgt. Ken Pompili was eagerly awaiting the birth of his daughter, Rylie, watching his wife's every move, every labor pain and every push from an armored vehicle 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan.
Pompili was witnessing the birth through a Skype connection, surrounded by his Marine unit from Lima Company.
"She sounds like she's in a lot of pain," he said, watching. "I don't like hearing her upset or in pain. It's hard for me to be here and not be able to be there for her and comfort her when I need to be."
Today, Pompili and the 178 other Marines in Lima Company were able to be there for their loved ones, finally returning home to Columbus, Ohio.
Pompili met his little girl for the first time, holding the tiny hand of a little lady dressed in a shirt reading, "Get out of my way I'm here to pick up my daddy!"
Hard-Hit Marine Unit
For the Marines of Lima Company, homecomings come with a deep appreciation. Their unit was the hardest hit in the Iraq War. In 2005, they lost 23 men, and more than 40 were wounded.
In Afghanistan they were deployed to Helmand Province -- a Taliban stronghold -- leaving their families behind.
Their stories of hope and loss offer a picture of the war one rarely sees.
Lance Cpl. Dan Bokros, 21, was married just days before he left for war. For his new bride, the infantry unit's nearly year-long deployment came at the wrong time.
"It was such a happy time," Christy Bokros said. "And then he had to go."
Christy Bokros and other wives had the same fear. They're proud of their loved ones but were always nervous.
"Am I going to get a phone call next week, next month?" Kim Van Deventer, the wife of Sgt. John Van Deventer of Lima Company, asked when her husband was in Afghanistan. "Is someone going to knock on my door? You never know."
Marines' Absence Hard on Kids
For the little ones, it was just as hard.
Five-year-old Sierra Blackwell knows her father, Staff Sgt. Dan Blackwell, is a hero.
"He's a good guy," she said. "He's the guy who saves the day."
And today is a day Sierra Blackwell and the other family members who were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their loved ones will treasure for awhile -- their greatest fears alleviated with the embrace of their Marine.