December 11, 2013
Fresh off an 11-month tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, a local soldier is back in Central Virginia. Sgt. Amanda Gibson hadn't seen her family or friends for more than a year.
When her plane touched down at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport just after 10 p.m. Wednesday night, she was reunited with more than 40 of them at once.
"We are really excited to have her back home and we just wanted to give her the biggest welcome that we could," said Kristin Selwyn, Sgt. Gibson's younger sister.
The soldier has been deployed twice. Both times she's been on leave, she's been too far for her loved ones to greet her -- once in Germany, the other time in Washington state.
"She's always described the big curtain and how they let it down and they have all the families run. She's never had that. She had to just go to her next plane because she knew her family wasn't there. We all wanted to be here to give her that welcome that she never could have," said Selwyn.
When the soldier reached the terminal, she was greeted by cheers and tears, signs and balloons.
"When I hit the corner and just saw everyone here, it was just overwhelming, exciting, an amazing feeling," said Sgt. Gibson.
The single mother was quickly held tight by her four-year-old daughter.
"She's grown so much in the last year. I almost didn't recognize her. I can't describe the feeling," said Sgt. Gibson.
The happy homecoming is a sigh of relief for the soldier's own father, too.
"This is a big load off my heart. I'm just so glad she's home," said Donald Gibson, Sgt. Gibson's dad. "You can't have a better Christmas present than her coming home and being with everybody."
"Holidays always make it special, so that's a good thing, and being able to see her daughter, I think that makes it even more special," said Sgt. Gibson's stepfather, Darrell Bickers. "I think we're all just happy to have her whenever we can get her, whether it's the holidays or not."
Being away from loved ones is tough for the family, but Sgt. Gibson's mom says they find a way to deal with it because it's her daughter's calling.
"This is what she was born to be, is in the army, because she is army strong. That's where she needs to be, and she loves it," said Tamara Bickers.
"Being in the military, the army, whatever branch, it's hard, but with everyone's support, it makes it so much easier," said Sgt. Gibson.
Sgt. Gibson will spend the next two weeks at home before heading to North Carolina for training.