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Over 100 Arkansas military members reunite with families after 11-month deployment

More than 100 Arkansas National Guard Members are back home after nine months of deployment in Southwest Asia.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, more than 100 Arkansas National Guard members greeted their loved ones in person for the first time in nearly a year.

"I'm getting butterflies again, it's kind of hard to believe,” said First Lieutenant Andrew Stengel while he anxiously waited to see his wife of two years. Stengel was emotional when asked what he would do when he sees his wife for the first time in person. "Probably cry. But, kiss my wife."

Movements after stepping off the bus to return home, troops were allowed inside a room full of loved ones. However, before running to hug and kiss one another, they had to follow one last command.

"I think he only talked for 90 seconds,” said Jocelyn Lampkin, describing what felt like a lifetime as she saw her husband in the same room with her for the first time in 11 months. “But it felt like two hours."

The Lampkins spent the past 11 months video chatting.

"As great as that is, it's still not the same as being home," said Cpt. James Lampkin.

Distance is no longer a barrier. Loved ones holding each other tighter than before.

"It's a dream come true," said Cpt. Lampkin.

"I was happy, excited," said one of Cpt. Lampkin’s three boys. “Happy," another said.

Specialist Thais Vargas says she was overcome with emotions to be welcomed home. "I was overwhelmed."

"Seeing them today,” said Sgt. Martin Ballesteros. “It was unbelievable. It was an amazing feeling."

Sgt. Ballesteros said he was glad to see his six-year-old twin daughters in person after nearly a year apart.

"They got so, so big," Sgt. Ballesteros said speaking about the growth of his daughters. He says he’s going to make up for the lost time "just doing absolutely nothing with them."

However, others are already planning trips.

"Flying to Aruba on the 12th," said 1st Lt. Stengel, for his and his wife’s anniversary.

Troops are also looking forward to the little things.

"Being able to take a shower without shower shoes," Sgt. Ballesteros said while grinning.

Jocelyn Lampkin, a mom of three boys said after seeing her husband again, “A load has been lifted."

As the boys, who are young basketball fans, get to spend much-needed time with dad.

“He would usually coach me in basketball," said one of the Lampkin boys.

However, what everyone is looking forward to the most— is some home cooking.

"My mother’s food,” Sgt. Ballesteros said. “There's nothing compared to that. Some good authentic Mexican food."

"My mom's cooking,” SPC Vargas said, mirroring Sgt. Ballesteros' sentiment. “She makes the best authentic Mexican food, ever."

Some troops even said that after nearly a year without seeing the Razorbacks in person, they are looking forward to the Diamond Hogs making it to Super Regionals and defeating Oklahoma State University.

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