The National Guardsmen from the Edgewood Armory drank their first beer in months at a Shannon airport pub in Ireland midway through the long trip home.
They touched down in the United States to heartfelt cheers, home-baked cookies and pizza pie from hundreds of strangers in Bangor, Maine, and again in Philadelphia.
The men of the 29th Air Traffic Control Group finally came to their home base 48 hours after they'd left the Persian Gulf and just as the new day began yesterday. They arrived tired, proud and profoundly moved to be once again with their families and loved ones.
"The emotions, I guess, were the biggest thing we had to deal with," said Warrant Officer Candidate John Gaver. "I'm 44 and I was being taken away from my home and family. But we were doing something that had to be done."
The 29th ATC Group was activated for the gulf war in December.
"I have an 11-year-old son," Gaver said. "I went to a Christmas festival at his school just before we left.
"I looked at all the children in that school and thought if we don't do this now, stop Iraq, we'll have to do this five or six years from now and he'll have to do it."
His son's name is Shawn and he goes to Ridgely Elementary School. Gaver and his wife, Kellie, live in Carney. They also have a daughter, Brittany, 9.
"Shawn in one of his letters," Gaver said, "he wrote 'Dear Hero Dad. . . .' That brought tears to my eyes."
Gaver spent most of the war in a RATT rig, a radio and teletypewriter vehicle. He was a Comsec -- communications security -- officer. He handled cryptological communications, coding and decoding.
The 29th is a unique command unit, the only one in the Army. It runs the units that do the actual air space management, which means keeping various military airplanes from bumping into one another.
"All secured communications to forward areas went through our RATT rig," Gaver said. "And I was in charge of that."
Sgt. Michael Burton, a Baltimore County police officer at the Essex station, and Spc. Joseph Bowory, an employee at the city's Back River sewage treatment plant, worked with him. They remain in Saudi Arabia.
"They are still operating the communications system we put in place," Gaver said.
Twenty men from the 29th came home yesterday; 26 are still in the gulf.
"We stepped down in Saudi Arabia on New Year's Eve," Gaver said. "We ate in a chow hall and when we came out Vice President [Dan] Quayle was there. I got to shake his hand."
So did Staff Sgt. David Frazier. Then the 29th drove off in convoy to Riyadh.
"We celebrated New Year's Eve on the road to Riyadh," Frazier said, "with plenty of bottled water."
He's a special enforcement officer with the city Department of Housing and Community Development when he's not in the military.
And he's a Vietnam vet who spent a year with the 1st Marine Division at Chu Lai and Da Nang. He received a Purple Heart after he was wounded by a booby trap.
"As a Vietnam vet, I appreciate the way this war went," he said. "I felt good about the military. The military's about getting the job done and that's what we did.
"That was the name of the game: Get in there, do what we had to do and get on out."
And now that he's out he's having a reunion with his son, Damian, who's 18 and a newly minted airman in the Air Force.
"He was going through basic training at the time I was going over to Saudi Arabia," Frazier said. Damian, who graduated last year from City College, is to go to Germany April 20.
Warrant Officer 2 William Best's son was in Saudi Arabia while he was there. William Best 3rd -- "Trey" they call him -- got back about a week before his father.
They visited a couple of times in Saudi Arabia. Trey, who's also 18, is an MP with the 18th Airborne Corps. He graduated from Linganore High School in Frederick County last June, went into the Army in July, completed basic and advanced infantry training, finished jump school and left for Saudi Arabia.
He guarded convoy routes and then prisoners of war.
"He had a lot of contact with Iraqis," said Best, who's a very proud father indeed.
He lives in Unionville with his wife, Janice, and their daughter, Jennifer, 14, a freshman at Linganore.
Master Sgt. Anthony Navickas' specialty is nuclear, biological and chemical defense, a specialty that took on added dimensions during the Persian Gulf war.
"The Iraqi threat was there," Navickas said. "Luckily, I was very bored. I didn't have much to do at that job."
Navickas, a land surveyor with an engineering company in civilian life, lives in Reisterstown with his wife, Dee, and his daughter, Lisa. Like many of the men in the 29th, he's in his early 40s and has had considerable military service, including active duty from 1965 to 1969, a couple of years of it in Berlin.
And like the others he has no uncertainty about the war.
"I think we had to go do what we did," Navickas said. "It's as if my next door neighbor is breaking into my house. I'm sure I'd like the cops to come in and get him. We were the policemen in the gulf. It had to be done."
All these men praise the support they felt from people at home.
"It was like we had cheerleaders back here," Gaver said. "When you've got the home side cheering for you, you just want to excel."