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Windsor Locks — Family members and friends cheered, waved American flags and held signs saying "Welcome Home Dad" and "I Love You Mom," for the return Wednesday of a Niantic-based Connecticut Army National Guard unit from a deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
More than 50 soldiers from the 192nd Military Police Battalion arrived at the National Guard's Windsor Locks Army Aviation Readiness Center, as loved ones welcomed them with balloons and bouquets of flowers.
Sgt. Dennis Stone Jr. of Westerly hugged his wife, Allison, lifting her off the ground. She had created a sign that said "I would wait forever, but ten months is long enough! Welcome home Sgt. D. Stone!"
Stone returned just in time for the couple's first wedding anniversary on Feb. 1. Allison, a nurse, said they weren't sure if he would make it home by then, and she is thrilled they will be able to celebrate together.
"We have been apart for 10-and-a-half months," said Allison. "It's been a really long year by myself, and we're so excited to be back together finally."
According to a news release, the unit supported detainee operations during a deployment for nine months to Guantanamo Bay.
The soldiers left Connecticut in March for additional training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and had previously trained several times at J.B. Gates Correctional Institution in Niantic through an arrangement with the state Department of Correction.
The unit is commanded by Lt. Col. Paul Deal of Hampton.
"The success of the 192nd Military Police was built upon a set of skills honed right here in Connecticut, thanks to the commitment of the men and women who answered the nation's call," Maj. Gen. Thaddeus J. Martin, adjutant general and commander of the Connecticut National Guard, said in the news release. "We are very proud of everything the unit accomplished while mobilized to Cuba."
On Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman welcomed the soldiers and their families.
Sgt. Dan Marolda said he was glad to be home as he reunited Wednesday with his parents, sister and niece. The family said their plans are to spend time together and for Marolda to get to know his 16-month-old niece, Julia.
"We kept in touch, but we missed him a lot," said his mother, Kathleen Zecchin of Canton. "It was hard, especially around Christmas, not to have him home."
Capt. Benjamin Hull of Norwich beamed as he held in his arms his 8-month-daughter, Kenzington, who was dressed in a flower headband, pink and green tutu and T-shirt that read "I'm here to pick up my daddy."
"She's my angel," said Hull. "This is my angel, too, right here," he added, taking the hand of his wife, Audra.
During his deployment, Hull video-chatted with his family and watched his daughter develop new facial expressions and start to come into her own. He said he couldn't wait to get back home to see his wife and daughter.
"It's wonderful," he said. "I couldn't be more excited. We've been counting down the months, the days."