Staff Sgt. Ethan J. Unterweger wasn’t sure his 3-year-old son, Liam, would recognize him after being away for nearly a year in the Persian Gulf region.
But those fears disappeared instantly when the Army National Guardsman stepped off the bus at the Connecticut Street Armory at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and the little boy spotted his daddy.
“He came running up to me,” Unterweger, 37, happily recounted.
Unterweger was among more than three dozen Western New Yorkers serving with the Guard who came home early Wednesday.
Most of the men and women were members of the 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. They were deployed to Camp Shelby in Mississippi in January and headed overseas in April.
Most of the soldiers served in Kuwait and Bahrain. Their duties included logistics, administration and security.
They recently returned to Mississippi, and late Tuesday night, about 80 Guard soldiers boarded a plane to Syracuse.
From there, a bus filled with soldiers from the Rochester and Buffalo areas headed out, dropping off the Rochester contingent first and then the rest at Buffalo.
“It was hard to get some sleep,” Unterweger said. “We’ll manage to today.”
But late Wednesday morning, Unterweger was wide awake at his home in Lewiston, elated to be back and eager to spend more time with his son.
“He made that change from little toddler to … ,” Unterweger said, trying to figure out the right word to describe how much Liam had grown. “He just turned 3.”
Like many military parents, Unterweger took every chance he could to call home. Internet connections were terrible in Bahrain, he said, so he’d use a telephone for those.
But from Kuwait, he was able to use Skype for video calls.
Over the next few days, he is looking forward to playing with his son, getting some Christmas shopping done and “hopefully watch the Bills win a game.”
He said he was sadly aware of how the season’s been going for his hometown team.
“That one last week was a heartbreaker,” he said. “Maybe we’ll see if the NHL comes along.”