EDITOR’S NOTE: Follow the Vetterline family’s preparation for Sgt. Robert Vetterline’s return from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan at FORTHOODHERALD.COM.

Dressed in pink with a rainbow of paint smudges on her face and hands, 2-year-old Jillian Vetterline laid on top of a “Welcome Home Daddy” banner Saturday with a photo of her dad.

It was the closest she had been to him in nine months.

Just a few feet away, Kendra, 7, and Joseph, 9, painted their own bright posters on the dining room table. The banner and posters will decorate their front yard in about two weeks when their father, Sgt. Robert “Robbie” Vetterline, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, returns from his deployment to Afghanistan.

“Cleaning and waiting is what we’re doing,” said Danielle Vetterline, 25, a wife, mother and college student. “I’m trying to get everything in order. Joseph and Kendra have their chores, and we have a lot of stuff to still do — school and dance and Boy Scouts.”

For Vetterline, watching her children start to become young people is the best part of being a mom.

“Our lives keep going and I can’t freeze them, so when he gets home it takes awhile to understand where they are now,” she said. “The kids are not where they were when he left. ... At the same time the most exciting part is watching Robbie get reacquainted with them.”

Kendra doesn’t like to talk about her dad being gone. Instead, she focuses on his return.

“I want him to spend time with me,” said Kendra, her eyes flashing a smile from behind blue-rimmed glasses.

As the oldest child and only son, Joseph has missed guy time with his father and is eager to show him his new archery set so they can practice shooting at targets.

Joseph checked the new spy watch he received for his birthday Feb. 27, and his mom asked him the time.

“2:15 p.m.” he said.

“Then what time is it in Afghanistan?” his mom asked, helping him count the nine-hour difference between here and there.

“It’s 11:15 at night,” he said. “Daddy’s sleeping.”

Although his birthday has passed, Joseph will combine his birthday with his dad’s welcome home party. He said he won’t celebrate his birthday without his “old man.”

Unlike previous deployments, Vetterline said this time was the easiest because her mom came to visit when her husband left.

“I had four hands to help instead of two,” she said.

One thing she especially looks forward to is when the kids ask for Daddy instead of Mommy.

“The kids haven’t gotten to talk with him too much, except every once in a while on weekends,” she said. “It’s coming to a head now because they know he’s coming and they’re excited.”

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