TAMPA — In his arms for the second time in her life, Ella Monterosso looked up at her father's face.
Then she cried.
The 4-month-old daughter of Tech. Sgt. Shane Monterosso, 31, had waited quietly with her mother at Tampa International Airport on Saturday night, but daddy arrived well after her bedtime.
"He thinks she's happy all the time because she smiles in pictures," said Staff Sgt. Che Monterosso, 32, his wife of two years. "She giggles when he makes faces on Skype."
Monterosso was one of three airmen from MacDill Air Force Base's 6th Mobility Wing who returned to Tampa on Saturday night. They deployed to Iraq in September to aid the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Holding Ella was surreal.
"She's a lot heavier," Shane Monterosso said, laughing. "It's been tough watching her grow. She's almost doubled in size."
His wife sent him a photo of Ella every day he was gone, and made the trip to Texas two weeks after she was born so he could see his daughter as he prepared to leave for Iraq.
"I wanted them to meet each other before he left," Che Monterosso said. "I gave him something to think about."
Fresh off the plane, Staff Sgt. Curtis Raines, 27, hugged his wife, Kimberly, and smiled at the "Welcome Home Daddy" sign. "We did convoy missions in and out of Iraq" to aid the withdrawal, Raines told the news crews huddled around his family.
His wife was overwhelmed.
They were married in July and he deployed two months later.
Senior Airman Kimberly Raines, 34, met her husband while working in the same unit for the Air Force.
"When I found out he was coming back, it was pure joy," she said.
Senior Airman Romar McGee, 22, didn't have a huge welcoming party for him, but he was still glad to be back.
"This was my first deployment," he explained. "It was scary at times, but you just have to keep pushing."
All the airmen were happy to be home, but the arrival date was particularly special for the Monterossos.
Saturday was their second wedding anniversary and today is Che Monterosso's birthday.
They didn't have any big plans.
"I'm so excited to have him back to help out with the baby," she joked.
He planned on helping out — just as soon as he took care of something else.
"I'm looking forward to sleeping in the bed," he said.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (813)226-3373.