The way people were cheering and screaming, and nudging and clamoring to get as close to the front of the throng of fans as possible you would've thought some rock stars or pro athletes were about to get off the three huge charter buses that pulled up next to the Marshall National Guard Armory on Friday morning.
Sorry, no rock stars. This was better.
On this day, the stars were soldiers.
And they got the rock star treatment.
Families and friends from Pequot Lakes to Springfield, from Mankato to Marshall, gathered in front of the armory on a cool, blustery day to welcome home National Guardsmen from the 151st Artillery, Alpha Battery.
The cool weather did nothing to shake the warm spirit of the morning. The dull, gray sky was a mere backdrop for all the red, white and blue on scene.
And it was tears, not rain, that eventually fell as the troops began setting foot on the asphalt driveway in front of the armory.
This was a day marked on kitchen calendars for quite some time - a day for moms, dads, uncles, aunts, wives and kids to celebrate as their sons, husbands, nephews and daddies came home. This was Christmas, birthdays and family reunions all happening at the same time.
"It's been a long week," said Angela Anderson of Balaton, wife of Staff Sgt. Jason Anderson. "The kids have been real excited. You don't sleep much because you're just so excited about him coming home."
The Andersons have three children: Kalli, 8, Kaitlyn, 5, and little Keagen, 3.
"I'm excited," said Kalli, decked out in red, white and blue to go along with her pink and gray camo pants. "He was home for two weeks in February, but the last time he was home for a while was last April. He gives us piggyback rides a lot and I really missed that when he was gone.
"He's a really good cook, too," Kalli added. "He makes really good breakfasts."
Friday's was the second welcome home ceremony for the Anderson family. Last time, Jason had three people waiting for him. Friday there were four.
The hugs lasted more than 15 minutes.
"I think it was easier this time," Angela said. "The older two kids knew what was going on, and we were able to email everyday with Jason, whereas before we weren't able to. They're proud of their dad, just like we all are. The kids are older, they understand more. They're able to express their emotions a little better, I think."
There was a lot of that going on Friday.
The Simpson family of Pequot Lakes isn't new to welcome home ceremonies, either. Friday's was their third.
"I'm really excited," 12-year-old Heather Simpson said about seeing her dad, Staff Sgt. Aaron K. Simpson.
Aaron Simpson has been deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and most recently Kuwait.
"You get used to it, and you don't," said Aaron's wife, Sue. "I don't think it gets easier; you just put your faith in the Lord that he's gonna be safe and he's gonna stay safe."
Sue doesn't go out of her way to catch media reports about the war. She has enough to keep track of at home to pay attention to what's being said on TV.
"I usually don't keep track that much because I'm so busy with the children and work and the house," she said. "We keep abreast of what's going on in the world, obviously, but we're so busy with other activities so that helps, too. We're always thinking about him, the kids are always thinking about their dad, but it helps that they're involved with sports - keeps them busy and keeps them focused."
"When there's news about the Army and stuff, I usually don't watch it 'cause it's pretty upsetting," Heather said. "It's kind of scary."
"I don't watch it on TV because I don't want to know what's happening," said Justine Streich, 11, of Springfield. "It's on TV a lot. I don't want to think about it while he's gone."
Sue Simpson said the kids - Heather and her 8-year-old brother A.J. - deal with their father being gone for long periods of time better as they get older.
"She's been doing pretty good, but she just misses him, of course," she said. "We have strong faith in the Lord; that's what helps us through. We have good family support, our church, our friends. Kind of just deal with it actually. Of course we miss him greatly. We're just excited he's home."
From a dad's perspective, Jason Anderson said the more kids you leave behind the harder it gets. Then again, his children are older this time around, so it's easier explaining what exactly is going on. Plus, being a career Guardsmen, everyone in the family is kind of used to the way things work.
"I try to do my best to have the kids understand what I'm doing and why I do it," said Jason, who's been with the Marshall unit for 17 years. "They've been really good. For the most part they understand what dad does. They've already asked about the next time. Hopefully there won't be a next time, but you never know. I guess we just kind of live with that mentality of being apart. But the kids have really been understanding about what dad does."
"They've been asking more questions like, 'when does dad have to go again,' because they've been through it twice already, and now they're more concerned about when dad has to go again," Angela said. "Hopefully not for a while, but you never know. If they need him, they're gonna call dad and he's gonna go."
Until then, enjoy your eggs, Kalli.