HELENA — Darik Vincent had a sign with him at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Helena on Wednesday morning.
“Waited my whole life to meet you dad,” it said.
Darik, about 5 ½ months old, finally met his father, Sgt. Wesley Vincent, at about 10:30 a.m., when he arrived with about 45 other soldiers in the 189th General Support Aviation Brigade of the Montana Army National Guard after nearly a year away, including service in Afghanistan.
Wesley had, however, seen his son before; the two had visited using Skype, the web-based videophone software, and Wesley even witnessed Darik’s birth using the technology, said his wife, Marli.
About 10 people spanning five generations — including Darik’s great-great-grandmother, Mae Wing, greeted Vincent on the return from his first foreign deployment.
“Daddy’s coming home,” 3-year-old Karli Vincent said.
Marli said the family used Skype twice a day to keep in touch, especially for the kids.
The unit (Detachment 1, Bravo Company) departed Helena for Fort Hood, Texas, in February 2012, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In Afghanistan, they maintained and flew Chinook helicopters, primarily transporting troops and supplies.
A few hundred people braved freezing temperatures and winds as they awaited the jet. A lineup of emergency response vehicles welcomed the soldiers with lights and sirens.
The crowd cheered a few minutes when the first soldiers deplaned, and many didn’t wait for them to reach the viewing area before running to them with hugs and tears.
Marli hadn’t seen Wesley since a visit to Texas in April, she said.
“It’s been a long year and I’m ready for it to be done,” she said.
The Vincents' two older kids — Mason and Saydi — didn’t know about their father’s return. The family arranged to surprise the pair at their school, Four Georgians Elementary, that afternoon.
When Saydi first saw her father standing in her classroom, she froze.
“Daddy!” she shouted, running to embrace Wesley with a big smile on her face.
Wesley scooped his daughter up and held her close, as the students and teachers in the room cheered.
Saydi was all grins as she walked with mother and father to another classroom where Mason had yet to learn of his father’s return from Afghanistan.
When asked how excited she was to see her father, she said, “Um, a lot!”
As Mason played a game of Simon Says with his classmates, Wesley snuck up behind his son and surprised him.
The classroom went silent as Mason embraced his dad for the first time in nearly a year.
“You’re holding me pretty tight there, huh, buddy?” Wesley said to his son, whose eyes were tearing up. “How are you doing? You miss me?”
Mason was too emotional for words when asked how happy he was to see his dad again.
“Take care of Mommy for me, huh?” Wesley asked his son.
Wesley said it was exciting to be reunited with his family.
“I haven’t seen my kids in 11 months,” Wesley said. “(Family is) very important — the most important thing in my life.”