FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), returned to Fort Drum on Thursday, as their nine-month deployment to Afghanistan draws to a close.

Families sang and danced to music played by the 10th Mountain Division Band, and children waved American flags while waiting eagerly for their loved ones to march into Magrath Sports Complex for the second welcome home ceremony this month.

Soldiers of 1st BCT have spent the better part of the year in Afghanistan, advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Force. Specially trained Security Forces Assistance Teams composed of Soldiers with many different job disciplines taught classes and trained members of the Afghan National Army, Afghan Uniform Police and Afghan Local Police as they prepare to take full control of the nation's security by 2014.

Soldiers departed the jumbo jet at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield at around 8:30 a.m. Thursday with their assault packs on their backs and smiles on their faces, knowing that in just a couple of hours, their Families and friends would be in their embrace. A greeting party led by Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, 10th Mountain Division senior enlisted adviser, welcomed each man and woman with a firm handshake and a sincere "welcome home," as they took their first steps on American soil in nearly nine months.

Although the excitement could be felt as the stream of Soldiers fresh from deployment flow off of the jet, perhaps no excitement could match that inside Magrath Sports Complex. The deafening cheers, laughter and singing could be heard outside the building while duffle bags and ruck sacks lined the back lawn, waiting for their owners to claim them.

A formal ceremony was all that stood between these Soldiers and their friends and Family. Grunts and groans followed by laughter accompanied the announcement "Ladies and gentleman, the ceremony will begin in five minutes." Colorful words crafted humorously on poster board sat atop a stroller proclaiming "I have waited all my life to meet you!" A boy walked around with an American flag in his back pocket looking for his dad and ran back to his mother when the ceremony began.

Cheers and applause erupted as the formation of Soldiers marched in proudly and precisely, and filled the gym.

Col. Carl A. Alex, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commander -- support, addressed the formation, showing gratitude for the hard work over the months and congratulating Soldiers on a job well done.

Alex tasked the Soldiers to be safe and to not try to make up for nine months of lost time in one weekend. He ended the ceremony by tasking out the Families in the bleachers, reminding them that not every Soldier in the ranks before them has Family Members in attendance, and asking that every man and women returning home gets a hug and a handshake.

After being dismissed, the formation dissolved into a blur of hugs, kisses and handshakes, marking the beginning of the end of the U.S. combat presence in Afghanistan and one step closer to the 1st Brigade Family being together again.