Army Spc. Edward Myers' homecoming didn't go quite as expected but ended up being just what he needed.
The 2007 Senior High grad was scheduled to land in Billings just after noon on Dec. 20 after serving 10 months with the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq.
Family, friends and veterans from local chapters of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Guard and the Patriot Riders - nearly 100 people - were getting ready to surprise Myers at the airport when the news came across that his arrival was delayed about 12 hours.
A plane crash at Denver International Airport held up flights that day and gave him just a few minutes to get to his connecting flight in Michigan.
"I had literally two minutes to make it," he said. "I missed that flight."
Myers, 20, was waiting in the customer service line, in full uniform, to get a new flight when one of the women behind the counter looked at him and said, "What are you doing waiting in line? Come up here."
She made some calls, Myers said, and they got him on a flight out. Instead of flying to Denver, he went from Michigan to Minnesota. He was upgraded to first class for the rest of his trip and finally arrived in Billings at about 12:30 a.m.
When Myers arrived in Billings, he was expecting family and maybe a few friends to be waiting. Instead, he was greeted by a crowd of about 50 people, including local veterans.
"It was really nice to come home to," he said. "It made me more proud to be doing this, if that makes sense. A lot of those guys are veterans, too. It's why I'm doing this."
His mother, Bethany Davis, said the crowd added extra meaning to his homecoming.
"We appreciate all those people so much," she said. "It was just absolutely wonderful. It's important that we support our troops."
Myers had been serving near Mosul, Iraq, since February. He joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a junior in high school, and as soon as he turned 18 he went active. At age 15, he had heart surgery and had to prove to the Army that he was fit for active duty.
As a member of the 10th Mountain Division, Myers was on infantry and patrol duty. He said a typical day consists of six to eight hours of patrol in a vehicle, up to three hours of patrol on foot, a quick meal back at the base and then heading back to patrol duty.
"We're always up, sometimes with only three or four hours of sleep a day," he said. "Once we went four days straight (without sleep)."
Myers declined to elaborate on many of his combat experiences, but did say that "we're trying a different route, it's not just shooting" in the war in Iraq. He said his unit spends a lot of time doing humanitarian aid drops, bringing food to local families and helping set up local security.
That work has had a profound effect on him. It has opened his eyes to the rest of the world, he said.
"It changed who I am," Myers said. "You see these people that are hungry, that are struggling. You don't realize how much is happening around the world. Maybe I'm not personally making a difference, but I'm part of something that is."
Davis describes her son as "very family-oriented" and said it has been tough for him to be away for so long.
Myers agrees wholeheartedly, but said that his mother and younger brother, Stephan; his fiancée, Melissa Cahill; and a few other surprises while in Iraq helped ease those tough times.
Brandy Mallak, also from Billings, ended up as a driver stationed with Myers, so he had a connection to home in Iraq.
Care packages from family and strangers alike - including one from his mother that had an inflatable pool that "popped in about five minutes" - helped.
"It's really nice to have people that support us," he said.
"We would get random packages from people we didn't even know. You have no idea how nice it is to get back from patrol and you're tired and there's a box of graham crackers waiting for you."
Myers will be in Billings until mid-January, when he will head out to Fort Drum in New York. He's not scheduled to be redeployed for at least a year, but will be training with his unit until that day comes.
In the meantime, he's enjoying his time home - even when it means experiencing the winter smell of the sugar beet factory.
Myers headed to Red Robin for a big, greasy burger the first chance he got, and on Jan. 5 he and Cahill, 19, will be married in Red Lodge. Besides that, he is just looking forward to a little downtime at home with his family.
"I miss the small town," he said. "It's home here."