LOUISVILLE, Ky.  (WDRB) -- They were deployed to an undisclosed location in the Persian Gulf, but on Saturday they arrived home to Kentucky and celebrated the 4th of July with their families.

Just after 2:00 p.m. Saturday there was a touchdown and celebration at the Kentucky Air National Guard.

More than 35 airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing celebrated Independence Day by returning home.  Their families awaited their arrival decked out in red, white and blue.

Phones captured the reunion.  Signs, balloons, and a few tears were just part of the excitement.

"The deployment itself isn't hard,“ said Josh Ketterer.  “The hardest part is always on the family, it's always on the wife and the kids."

"It's challenging,” said Nick Reinke, ”especially since I left with a 6-month-old and it looks like he's about doubled in size now.  There's some great stuff like FaceTime and text messaging to keep in touch, but it's not the same."

Families hugged and kissed their moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and husbands and wives.  One man even got engaged.

“I fell in love with you the first time I saw you smile.  Will you marry me?”

That’s how Mike Johnson of Sellersburg Indiana greeted his girlfriend Vanna Jones after getting down on one knee.  The public proposal made in front of TV cameras and Jones said ‘yes’.

“I can't stop shaking," she told WDRB.

Johnson and Jones have known each other for a while but have been dating for about five months.

"She's very passionate and don't give up.  She’s a fighter, she loves me that's it really," said Johnson.

"He's worth it -- every bit of it," said Jones who never wants him to leave again.

Johnson and the other men and women who returned Saturday were in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

While deployed, they flew hundreds of tons of cargo and troops through Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Africa.

"Whenever anybody goes on one of these deployments, the chances are they may not come back,” said Kentucky Adjutant General, Major General Ed Tonini.  “When they come back -- and come back satisfied and knowing they did a good job -- that's what this job's really all about and that's what gives you the great feelings."

This was the Kentucky Air Guard's 6th deployment in the past 12 years.

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