TUCSON - "Santa's bringing my daddy home!" For weeks, that's what 4-year-old Berlyn Morrison has been telling her preschool teacher, strangers at the supermarket and anyone else who would listen. And on Christmas Eve, with help from the Army, Santa came through.
After 15 months in Iraq, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Alberto Morrison walked back into his loved ones' lives, one of more than 100 soldiers from Fort Huachuca's 11th Signal Brigade who made it home in time for the holidays.
"Seeing my family again, it was overwhelming," said Morrison, 35, who was speechless at first as tears filled his eyes.
He has been to war four times since 2004, and until now he has never spent a Christmas with his wife and kids.
His wife, Capt. Shylo Morrison, 30, also is in the Army. One parent or the other has been deployed each December since their children were born. The couple also have a 17-month-old son, Auston.
The 11th Signal Brigade wasn't due back from Iraq until early January. But because the unit was away at war last Christmas and also for the past two Thanksgivings, the Army juggled return dates so the brigade wouldn't have to miss two Christmases in a row.
A replacement unit, the Delaware National Guard's 261st Signal Brigade, volunteered to ship out a few weeks early so the Fort Huachuca troops could come home ahead of time, Army officials said.
"That was one heck of a Christmas gift," Eric Hortin, a spokesman for the local unit, said of the Delaware troops.
The 11th Signal Brigade provides high-tech communications services, such as Internet, satellite, and telephone and fiber-optic installations.
For the families reunited Wednesday, the past week has been a blur of cooking, cleaning, shopping and decorating.
Shylo Morrison bought a Christmas tree and strung it with lights, but she left the ornaments in boxes for her husband to hang.
She stocked the fridge with Guinness - his favorite beer, sorely missed since alcohol is forbidden in the Muslim country - along with a ham, turkey and other goodies.
After the fanfare upon the soldiers' return, the Morrisons headed for their sport utility vehicle with 4-year-old Berlyn gripping her father's hand. For hours afterward, she wouldn't leave his side, her mother said.
"The separation was hardest on her. Daddy is her favorite person in the whole world,'" Shylo Morrison said.
"For us, this is the best Christmas present ever."