WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania National Guardsmen specialists Edward Hilstolsky and Rich Presto have something in common: Two fathers who held their babies for the first time.
Hilstolsky and Presto were among 50 soldiers of the 109th Field Artillery with the 55th Brigade who returned home on Thursday.
It didn’t take long for the new fathers to hold their sons.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Hilstolsky, of Swoyersville, said about being away from his wife, Nicole, and 13-week-old son, Conner Edward.
“It’s a little nerve racking, but it’s good. We’ve been waiting for a long time,” Nicole said. “It was a long nine months.”
Presto, of Plymouth, held his 2-month-old son, Rich Jr., for the first time and had a little trouble with the pacifier. The baby spit it out, but Presto caught it like a pro.
“It is definitely a great feeling,” Presto said while cradling his son. “I’ve seen him on the computer, talked to him on the phone, but this is special, a very special moment for me.”
Soldiers returned to the armory off Market Street in two Martz Trailways buses at about 12:30 p.m. after a 22-hour ride from Mississippi to a large crowd of family and friends, many holding signs saying, “Welcome home daddy” and “God Bless the USA.”
Some soldiers jumped out of the doors, running to their loved ones while others retrieved luggage from under the buses.
They were away from their families since last October.
After a month of training at a U.S. Army base in the South, they spent eight months in Kuwait performing security missions as part of Operation New Dawn. They were among 1,500 Pennsylvania Army National Guard soldiers from the 55th Brigade deployed in Kuwait.