Holding signs and banners, many with young children in tow, groups of friends and family waited to see their soldiers’ faces.

After a couple of delays, the group of 160 soldiers marched into the Franklin Armory to the sound of cheers and squeals of delight. They were finally home.

The welcome home ceremony was organized for the soldiers from the 1413th Engineer Company of the Indiana National Guard, who returned home after nearly eight months in Afghanistan.

The unit, made up of engineers and soldiers with construction skills, had been a part of Operation Enduring Freedom since April. A deployment like this is sent from the Indiana National Guard around every four years, said Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger. Often, it is the first deployment for about 70 percent of the soldiers sent overseas.

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While they were gone, their families celebrated birthdays, continued on with school and work and children grew.

Sgt. Caleb Poynter was able to see his twin daughters’ first birthday just before he left on deployment, and now their second birthday is coming up, said his fiancee Aliyah Franklin, of Indianapolis.

“The toughest part was hearing about (the twins) growing up so much without being able to see them,” he said.

Poynter was welcomed home by eight other family members with homemade signs that said “My uncle is my hero” and “Not only do I call him Daddy, I also call him my hero.”

And that is just a small fraction of those welcoming him home, his mother Joan Poynter said. The family was also planning a welcome home party, she said.

Soldiers found creative ways to spend time with their families while they were deployed.

While Spc. Andre Williams was overseas, he would draw pictures with his 5-year-old daughter, Heaven, over Skype, his mother Gina Williams said. And Heaven Williams would send him pictures she would draw in care packages from his hometown of Gary.

During his deployment, he missed Heaven’s fifth birthday but did his best to make sure the day was still special for his little girl by renting a pony from a stable, Gina Williams said.

“All she wanted for her birthday was a pony,” Gina Williams said.

Gina Williams wanted to surprise Heaven Williams with her father’s return, so Heaven Williams made a sign for her father saying, “I love you Daddy,” but didn’t know her father was home until he walked in the door of the Johnson County Armory in Franklin.

For sisters Nevaeh, 5, and Addison, 2, the return of their uncle was also a surprise.

The Dillon sisters thought they were seeing a show Tuesday afternoon at the Franklin Armory — until they saw their uncle Spc. Robert Dillon appear before their eyes.

Now, the soldiers will return home to jobs, families and relaxation, just in time for the holidays.

Spc. Logan Dace came back the day after his birthday. In addition to seeing his family, Dace was excited to meet his corgi named Ine. Although he gave the dog a name, he had not met Ine since he adopted the animal while on deployment.

Umbarger thanked not only the soldiers for their service overseas but also the families for their sacrifice while the soldiers were away. He was proud of the families for surviving the deployment while their family members were overseas, he said.