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Missing the birth of his first child was the hardest thing Jason Call has ever done.

But coming home from Afghanistan to Corver, born Aug. 6, and his wife, Camille, "is the best feeling in the world," Call said Thursday, shortly after returning to Utah with 139 other Utah National Guard troops.

The Guardsmen's chartered flight was met by hundreds of cheering, tearful family members and friends at the Utah Air National Guard Base.

The 624th Engineer Co., 1457th Engineer Battalion, left for Afghanistan in June and returned earlier this month to Fort Hood, Texas. In Afghanistan, the engineers built structures for U.S. Central Command at bases throughout the nation.

Call, of Delta, was one of 25 Guardsmen whose wives and partners had babies while they were gone, and one of 15 first-time fathers. Two couples had twins, so there were 27 babies total born to members of the 624th.

Camille Call said Corver made it easy; "He's been a fantastic baby," she said.

Brian Skelton held his 4-month-old baby boy, Carter, for the first time Thursday, but he had a gift to give as well: a diamond ring for Carter's mom.

Skelton, from Rangely, Colo., proposed to Ashley Blake, originally from Roosevelt, with the ring just minutes after landing.

"I'm completely stunned," said Blake, showing off the diamond.

Skelton had given his sister the money to buy the ring, which Blake had admired, and a brother slipped it into his pocket before he found Blake in the crowd.

Skelton said it was hard to think about Blake giving birth and managing without him. He was rapt as he held his baby boy.

"I couldn't tell who he wanted to hold the most," said Skelton's mother, Monica Zobell, of Roosevelt.

The deployment was nerve-wracking for family back home, she said. "It's been such a worry, especially when they were in Kabul."

Megan Franco said she and her husband, Jacom Franco, planned the birth to coincide with his deployment because the Guard's medical insurance made Joshua's birth in November "totally free."

But there were complications at the beginning and the end, and that made it tough, said Megan Franco, of Provo.

She hemorrhaged early in the pregnancy, and then Joshua was born with his umbilical cord knotted and wrapped three times around his neck.

Her parents live in Arizona, so she had to deal with a fussy newborn and 2-year-old Andre alone. "It's been challenging," she said.

Kristina Bassett, of Payson, had double the load of the other new mothers: twins Noelan and Hudson, born Sept. 6.

"I'd be up all night with them. After six weeks it got easier, and now they are so easy," said Bassett, whose husband, Phillip, was among the returning troops.

The Utah National Guard sent 35 troops with the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade to Afghanistan last month and also has four pilots and two crew members in the country.

On Friday, 20 other Guardsmen with the 204th will leave for Fort Benning, Ga., en route to Kosovo for a yearlong deployment in that Balkan nation.

Twitter: @KristenMoulton

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