JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Returning from a nine-month mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, approximately 300 of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division's combat deployed soldiers, made it home to their loved ones just in time for New Year's. Having served as part of the regular rotation of forces in Afghanistan, members of the "Lancer Brigade" returned Dec. 30, to a late night gathering of friends and Family at Wilson Sports and Fitness Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

After hours of waiting, the gymnasium full of restless bodies and tired eyes came to full attention at the anonymous shout, "They're here!"

Tiffany Holiday and her three children had purchased a 3' x 5' vinyl, welcome-home banner, displaying a larger-than-life portrait of their soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Travis Holiday - something he would easily spot amid the ocean of separation-weary family members.

With 20 years of service under his belt, Holiday was returning from his fifth combat tour, one that started just after he and his family had arrived at JBLM.

"When we got to JBLM, I got a job and went straight to work," said Tiffany. "That was the only way I could keep my mind from dwelling on the fact that he was leaving again."

She explained what it took to make the emotional challenge of separation bearable during deployment.

"While he was gone, we were on the phone fairly often," she said. "We found a smartphone application that let us use our cell phones for crystal clear conversations as often as we were able!" Tiffany exclaimed. "But what else helped, was that we were all able to Skype - even when all we could see was his outline; it still made things easier."

Though most of the holiday season had passed, for some families, children especially, Christmas was still a buzzword - because it had been put on hold until the entire family could be together.

Chanel Sohl, and her three young daughters, Briley, Madison and Avonlea, had held off the Christmas celebration, until Capt. Jonathan Sohl, commander of B Company, 2nd Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, could be home. Capt. Sohl's parents, Lloyd and Jan Sohl, had made the 1,400-mile drive from Rapid City, S.D., to share in the festive reunion.

Lloyd and Jan Sohl both agreed that they were far too thankful to mind the cross-country drive. They were just happy for their son's return.

In the five years Jonathan and Chanel have been married, Chanel said they've moved three times and this has been their third deployment. And though any deployment can be very difficult, she explained from where her blessings flowed this season.

"I owe it all to Jesus," she said. "He has taught me so much during this deployment. He has kept us well, and he has kept us very close - and I could not have done it without him."

The Sohl family plans were to celebrate Christmas the next morning, and, in three days - Thanksgiving - just before Lloyd and Jan turn their car toward home.

For those fortunate enough to have made it onto the final JBLM-bound flight manifest of, 2012, New Year's Eve finds them safely back home, exhaling perhaps, for the first time in awhile. However, for the vast majority of almost 4,000 2/2 ID soldiers, still in Afghanistan, they must wait their turn, as the month of January prepares to call them - "Wheels up!"