By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
More than a year ago, Tanya Garza stood on her tiptoes and stretched toward her husband as he leaned out the window of a white school bus. They kissed before it pulled away, taking Sgt. Pomaikai Garza and his comrades to Iraq for more than a year.
Monday, the sergeant walked into Killeen Regional Airport. A group of family members and banner-waving soldiers waited for him and two other soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division's 15th Sustainment Brigade, but Pomaikai was only looking for one person. She wasn't there.
The soldiers handed out hugs and handshakes. She wasn't there.
The group headed down to the baggage claim, but she still wasn't there.
Pomaikai went to a big window near the building's entrance that overlooked the parking lot. No sign of her.
He kept looking out the window until he was called over to chat with several officers of the unit's rear detachment. A woman in a pretty flowered dress, hidden behind a bouquet of balloons, approached the automatic door. As it slid open, someone tapped Pomaikai on the shoulder.
She was finally there.
He grabbed his backpack, tossed it in a corner and ran to the entrance. Before Tanya could even get through the second set of doors, Pomaikai wrapped his arms around her for a long-awaited hug.
"I'm sorry I'm late," she said, tears in her eyes.
Pomaikai was one of the first three 1st Cavalry soldiers to return to Fort Hood on Monday – a trickle that will eventually become a flood of returning troopers. The other advance party soldiers who returned that day were Staff Sgt. Merrick Martin and Spc. Nathan Rose. A second wave of the party is set to return next week.
It feels good for the families and the unit to see soldiers returning, said Capt. Stephanie Harris, the Brigade Troops Battalion's rear commander. Even if the soldiers aren't coming home on this particular flight, it means they will be coming soon. It's the beginning, said Maj. Carl Womack, the brigade's rear commander.
"The beginning of the end for our unit, anyway," he said.
Tanya was overwhelmed to see her husband of nearly seven years.
"Wow, he's finally here," she said.
She has known for about two weeks that her husband would be home on Monday and he kept it a secret from her because he didn't want to "jinx it."
Tanya let him "lie" for about a day before telling him she knew, and kept asking, "So, is there anything new going on?"
She worked hard to get the house ready for him, rewashing all his clothes so they smelled fresh and getting the floors redone.
Tanya wanted the house to feel like home for her husband. She spent Sunday making food – enchiladas and brownies – so Pomaikai would have the "perfect lunch" after he landed.
She worried that by selecting a vintage dress from her friend's Web site, that she overdressed.
Her sister, Diane, who accompanied her to the airport, told her to go all out. "Why not?"
The last step in preparation was buying a bunch of balloons that read, "Welcome home." One flew away in the parking lot and she had to rearrange them before coming in the building. That's what took so long.
"I feel so bad I was late," she said, dabbing at tears so they wouldn't ruin her makeup.
Pomaikai only had one thing to say about finally getting to hold his wife: "Golly."
This was Pomaikai's second deployment since he came to Fort Hood in the winter of 1999.
Tanya hopes that he'll be home long enough for them to start a family.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547