After 11 months in Iraq, Mike Godleski will sit down to a quiet turkey dinner today with his wife and stepdaughter. It will be his first homecooked meal in months.
"I’m anxious, excited, sick to my stomach," said wife Anne Godleski of Chandler, as she waited for her husband’s Arizona Army National Guard unit to arrive home Wednesday night.
Nearby, Lindsay Sinica, 22, of Mesa said she was both excited and nervous to see her father, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the unit.
"You kind of forget what they look like," she said.
At 8 p.m., the 47 members of Company C, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation unit marched through the hangar doors of the Papago Military Reservation, but had to restrain themselves from running right into the arms of loved ones before being officially dismissed by their commander.
Soldiers scooped babies into their arms and kissed their wives while kids waved American flags and homemade banners. The applause and cheers were deafening.
"The Guard worked really hard to get them home for Thanksgiving," Anne Godleski said. "They hurried debriefing in Oklahoma to get them home tonight."
Sinica said her family never made concrete Thanksgiving plans because they didn’t quite believe her father would make it home in time.
But they did have time to throw together a "pre-Thanksgiving dinner" of chicken and pies for a small homecoming party tonight.
"It’s a dinner he hasn’t had for awhile," she said.
While stationed in Balad, north of Baghdad, the aviators and crew chiefs from Charlie Company logged more than 5,000 combat flight hours — more than any other air assault battalion so far — and suffered no casualties.
"We were flying very hostile skies," 1st Lt. Timothy Woods told the crowd. "We stand here with every single soldier that we departed with."
The unit was deployed in September 2004 with 10 Blackhawk helicopters, flying missions such as air assault and troop and equipment transport.
More than 700 Arizona Army and Air National Guard men and women are still serving in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and within the United States.