FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- After 12 months of worrying, wondering and waiting, friends and family members were on hand to welcome home the advanced party Soldiers of the 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion in the early morning hours of March 24.

This latest contingent of about 100 Soldiers touched down at Libby Army Airfield at around 2:45 a.m. and arrived at Barnes Field House shortly thereafter. At Barnes there were many people with yawning faces, impatient questions and sleepy eyes, but that wasn't enough to contain the excitement when the Soldiers finally made their arrival.

For Mayra Barragan, that moment couldn't come soon enough. Having been married for just a year, the separation wasn't an easy one.

"Handling our four children and trying to go to school was the hardest part for me," said Barragan. "I felt like a single parent being the mom and dad."

Still, Barragan maintains the children were overjoyed to learn their father, Spc. Eric Barragan, a multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer for the 86th ESB, was returning home. "They couldn't believe he was actually coming home," said Barragan.

Stephane Van Tassel shared that sentiment. Van Tassel said her children were "Super excited," to be welcoming home their father, Staff Sgt. James Van Tassel, a human resources noncommissioned officer for the 86th ESB. Van Tassel said that although there were some tough times during the deployment, like having a newborn baby and a toddler in his terrible twos at the same time, there were some bright spots. Hearing his two-year-old son starting to talk for the first time over the phone was one of the more memorable events of the deployment. Others included hearing his newborn daughter laugh, and hearing about how good his 9-year-old daughter was doing in school.

Apart from the joy of reuniting Soldiers with their families, the 86th ESB had a great deal more to be happy about.

Col. Patrick Dedham, commander of the 11th Signal Brigade, feels the Soldiers of the 86th ESB performed excellently during this deployment.

"They accomplished objectives that made a huge difference and changed the shape of C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) operations and support in Afghanistan," said Dedham. "They created the first combined Network Operations Center for RC-South that enabled the commander to create positive effects from the C4ISR network."

Although there was much to be proud of, the battalion still faced some challenges, such as being widely dispersed throughout Afghanistan. The operational tempo and troop increase created incredible demands on the battalion and the environment, Dedham added and congratulated the Soldiers of the 86th ESB on a job well done.

Following his speech, Dedham invited the friends and family members of the Soldiers down to the floor to greet their loved ones - a very emotional reunion for many of the Soldiers who had been waiting for this moment for a year.

The Van Tassel family's future plans include getting into their rhythm again and spending time together watching their babies grow, said James.

As for Barragan, she said she wants to make sure her husband feels as comfortable as possible. "I just want to start off where we left off."