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Christmas miracle complete: Florida National Guard troops arrive home for Christmas

7:52 PM, Dec 24, 2013   |    comments
Homecoming photo courtesy by WTSP.
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PLANT CITY, Fla. -- It's a special day for some Bay area families as their Christmas presents arrive early. Three hundred members of the Florida National Guard are now home for the holidays.

It took the first of the guardsmen's big camouflage bags hitting the pavement beside a charter bus to convince some of the people who'd gathered that this Christmas miracle was really happening.

Shouts mixed with squeals as dozens of people darted to the soldier they'd missed so much. Hugs -- and kisses -- and just... holding him.

Finally back in America after nearly a year in the Middle East, these families thought their soldiers would be spending Christmas just out of reach -- stuck at an Army base in Mississippi.

STORY: A holiday homecoming for Florida National Guard members  

But donations from businesses and 10 News viewers, $35,000 in all, got them buses to bring them home to the Bay area for the holidays.

Emotional embraces greeted guardsmen at three drop-off spots on Christmas Eve: here in Plant City, in Lake Wales, and in Arcadia.

But there may be no one else smiling as big as Jeremy and Donna Campbell.

"Hey! You look beautiful!" Jeremy said as he pushed back his camouflage cap and leaned in for another deep kiss from his wife.

He seemed so stunned because before he left, Donna almost never smiled. Her teeth and mouth were such, frankly, a mess -- she kept her lips tightly shut every picture. She blocked her mouth with her hand when she talked.

No more! Now her glowing white smile caught her husband's eye the moment he stepped down from the bus.

"I'm so happy for her, man. It means so much to her. It's been a plan of ours, a goal of ours, forever -- since we got together," Jeremy said as his voice wavered.

He looked away, fighting off tears. "To see it come to fruition like this is just -- she's such an outstanding woman -- she deserves it!"

While Sergeant Campbell served on the other side of the earth, Donna went through months of dental work -- extractions, replacements, and four root canals -- all donated by Coast Dental.

"It's been rough. I've been having to do all of this without telling him about it," Donna said. "And he's my best friend! I tell him everything."

From an unexpected holiday homecoming to a makeover that lets a wife smile at the soldier she loves, this Christmas, the people of Tampa Bay have come through.

"The patriotism in this state is ridiculous. It's like none I've ever seen before. And I'm always thankful for everything they do," Sergeant Campbell said.

"They go above and beyond, and just when you think that you've seen it all -- they come out and do stuff like this."

These soldiers have a special four-day pass to spend Christmas at home. On Friday, the same buses will bring them back to the base in Mississippi. They'll stay there until they come home for good early next year.


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