Ezekiel Dakota Mauldin, or Dak to friends and family, was one of four soldiers whose plane touched down in Little Rock at 3:15 p.m. Monday after serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the past 10 months.
As he walked through the terminal, he triumphantly raised his fists in the air as the crowd of family and friends who came to greet him shouted with exuberance.
Dak left for Afghanistan in February, one month before he had the chance to celebrate his one-year wedding anniversary with wife Shelbie, and three months after the birth of their son Braxtyn.
Since Dak has been away, he’s missed Braxtyn’s first words and first steps.
Dak’s Mammaw Ruth said she cried all the way to the airport, and she told herself she wasn’t going to cry when she saw him, but shed a few tears as she watched Dak reunite with his son.
"The best part is seeing Braxtyn with his dad," she said.
When Dak saw his wife and son, he bent down and watched Braxtyn walk to him for the first time. He scooped him up, and Dak and Shelbie were overcome with emotion as they held their son. "It’s been 10 months and I’m just glad to be home," Dak said. "I can’t really explain it. It’s a great feeling."
Shelbie said she finally feels like her life is complete again and everyone is safe.
"I can finally sleep without having to worry about either one of them," she said.
Coming home on Veterans Day added to an already emotional experience, Dak said, but he couldn’t think of a better day to come home.
"It adds to the emotion with everyone saying thank you when we were going through the airport, buying us lunch, all kinds of stuff," he said. "It’s the perfect day to come back home."
Dak said his plans so far are to relax for about a month or month and a half. Then he plans to go on with his life, he said, by going back to work, finishing school and hanging out with his family.
Shelbie said she’s looking forward to the little things like sitting on the couch and watching their favorite TV shows as a family.
"It doesn’t have to be anything crazy," she said. "Even though we have a ton of trips planned, that’s not what we’re looking forward to. We’re looking forward to sitting on the coach and just cuddling with each other."
Ronny Mauldin, Dak’s grandfather, said Dak is like a son to him and his wife, and it’s great to have him back home.
"You don’t realize how much the military does until you have someone over there," he said.
Soldiers Nic Sample, Jeremy Lashbrook and Laine Crocker were also reunited with their families Monday afternoon.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)