SALT LAKE CITY — Staff Sgt. Kyle Bowler had his hands full Sunday afternoon.
At one point, all three of Bowler's sons — ages 4, 3 and 15 months — were in his arms, sharing smiles and hugs to celebrate Bowler's safe return following a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan.
Bowler, of Orem, was among approximately 120 soldiers of the Utah Guard's 118th Sapper Company who arrived to a throng of cheering loved ones at the Utah Air National Guard Base.
Father and sons were identically dressed for the occasion in Army fatigues. Bowler's Army wife, Bernadette, had cut up her old uniforms and had a friend sew them into outfits for the boys.
"I'm feeling very happy," Bowler said, his words affirming what his facial expressions already had made abundantly clear.
Not far away from the Bowlers' reunion, Cap. Blake Bingham of Layton was hugging his wife, Briana, and their two daughters.
"It's all about this right here, coming home and seeing my two little girls and my wife after a mission that's been difficult and challenging," said Bingham, commander of the 118th.
The 118th Sapper Company spent a year in Afghanistan conducting hazardous route-clearance duties, locating and removing improvised explosive devices from roads so coalition forces — and civilians — could have safe passage.
The 118th completed more than 300 missions during that year and uncovered more than 100 IEDs, Bingham said.
"Words can't describe the pride that I feel for these soldiers," he said. "They've overcome some very difficult, challenging missions and have shown extraordinary resilience in everything they've done."
The most difficult of those times, he said, came in December, when the 118th lost one of its own.
Sgt. 1st Class James Thode, of Farmington, N.M., was killed by an IED. Thode, a 14-year veteran of the Farmington Police Department, had a wife and two children.
"He will never be replaced," Bingham said. "He'll always be in our hearts. Not a day goes by we don't think about him."