From more than 100 yards away, spotting Maj. Michael Russ among the dozens of other camouflage-clad Marines stepping onto the tarmac would have challenged the untrained eye.
But his wife, Victoria, and their three children have had some practice.
"This is our eighth deployment, so we know his walk," Victoria Russ said. "He has a kind of a swagger. Having him come home never gets old. It's like a honeymoon every time."
Forty Marines returned Thursday to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort after a deployment of nearly a year to the Helmand Province in southwest Afghanistan.
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Clutching signs, cameras at the ready and donning an array of homemade T-shirts -- including a toddler sporting a shirt that read "Daddy-Deprived for Your Freedom" --family and friends scanned the skies above the air station and eagerly awaited the return of their loved ones.
Originally scheduled to land at 10:30 a.m., the Marines were late leaving MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., and didn't arrive until after 1 p.m., much to the chagrin of 10-year-old Thomas Russ.
"When they told me he wasn't getting here until 1, I was like 'Huh?' and I started crying," Thomas said. "I just wanted him to get home. Hopefully now we'll be able to spend three or four years together."
Though leaving his family never gets easier, returning home to them never gets old, said Russ, a weapons system officer, as his wife, his son and two daughters clung to every available limb.
"It's always great to be home," he said.