Helicopters circled overhead and military personnel stood guard over the Papago Military Park Reservation on Saturday as dozens of children arrived for a party.
The children and their families gathered to celebrate the return of members of the Arizona National Guard's 259th Security Force from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
Family members filled available seats and overflowed into standing room only at the Russel Auditorium on 52nd Street and McDowell Road in Phoenix. One child's shirt read, "My father wears combat boots," as he slid along the floor in a different type of shoe - a sneaker with wheels.
According to a news release from the Guard, the 259th Security Force completed 360 missions. At the ceremony on Saturday, members were awarded 33 Purple Hearts, 25 Bronze Stars, two Medals of Valor and 108 Combat Action Badges. The unit also conducted security and convoy escorts along supply routes.
Sgt. Rachel Trotter of Mesa was awarded one of the Bronze Stars.
Trotter said she is a "fifth generation Arizonan," and her father could not join her for the award because he is deployed in an infantry unit in Afghanistan. She said her father will return to Arizona in a month.
Sgt. Shawn Anderson and his wife, Kymber, brought along their five children in celebration of their father's return from Iraq in October.
Kymber smiled at her youngest son as he tugged on her leg and said she greatly welcomed her husband's return.
"There's stability," she said. "Finally, some sanity back in our lives."
Sgt. Rachel Byers, 29, of Maricopa was awarded a Combat Action Badge for her service. But her husband missed the ceremony because he planned to try out for the TV show "American Gladiators" in Chandler at the same time.
Although he was not a part of the ceremony, Capt. Sean Connelly, 33, of Phoenix watched over the proceedings. He has served three overseas tours in Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has lived in the Valley for 18 months after moving from Louisiana.
After his longest tour of one year, Connelly returned and savored the small pleasures in life he missed while deployed.
After returning to the States, Connelly said his greatest pleasures were merely shopping at Wal-Mart or "going to a restaurant without having to worry about who's coming in the door."
As the families filtered through the doors of the auditorium, each member of the force walked away with an American flag, a symbol of their time spent in Iraq.