Once Maj. Matt Glynn stepped off the plane and into the arms of his wife and three sons on Thanksgiving eve, the Air National Guard pilot all but forgot about his exhausting five-day journey from Afghanistan.
"I consider myself very lucky to be home for the holidays," Glynn, 35, told The Huffington Post. "When our replacements showed up in Afghanistan to take the reins, I felt a little sad for them."
Though Glynn has been deployed five times since 2001 -- four times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan -- this tour was the most emotionally challenging. His two older sons, J.P., 4, and Murphy, 2 were old enough to realize their dad was gone. And his youngest, Cooper, who was just 3 months old when Glynn left, hit some major milestones while his dad was stationed in Bagram, transporting supplies and troops in C-130 planes.
"It was a lot harder to leave knowing that they would miss me," Glynn said. "Our youngest is 6 months. I was gone for half of his life. They were going to grow up and change so much."
But like many military families, the Glynns found innovative ways to stay close during the deployment period.
Even though Glynn was thousands of miles away from his California home, he was always included in his sons' bedtime routines. Glynn videotaped himself reading some of their favorite books, such as "The Giving Tree" and "Eight Silly Monkeys Jumping On The Bed." His wife, Megan, played the videos for the boys every night.
The couple talked on Skype whenever possible, but the boys video chatted a little less frequently. The conversations often reminded them just how much they missed their father.
"They get a taste, but not enough," Megan said of how the boys reacted to the calls. "The kids would be more distressed than they had been prior to the phone calls."
But as her husband's homecoming neared, Megan encouraged her sons to think about the adventures they would take together. J.P. already made plans to build a treehouse in the backyard with his dad.
"J.P. is very excited," Megan said. "He's been telling everyone for days, the countdown until Daddy gets home."
For her ability to constantly support her husband and kids, through moves to Germany, Korea, Kentucky, Arkansas and finally home to California, Megan was named the Air Force Spouse of the Year by Military Spouse magazine and Armed Forces Insurance.
Glynn said he appreciates that his wife got the recognition that she deserves. He said that such awards, the Obama Administration's push for veteran employment programs and the work of organizations like Blue Star Families have made him feel more hopeful recently for returning troops.
"The level of support that our country is giving to the military right now really is amazing," Glynn said. "It really makes me proud to be in the military and proud of our country."
But as Glynn fries the turkey and his wife sets the table for 15, the two agree that they've gotten what they've been hoping for most.
"Just spending time with family, that's everything that I've missed," Glynn said. "At our bases, we have access to just about everything you need, except family. As much as they try and make it like home, it's not home."
SLIDESHOW (photos by Rick Horn):