Proud squaddie Sergeant Adrian Dixon held his baby boy aloft after arriving home from a gruelling tour of Afghanistan.
Sergeant Dixon, 27, had just five precious weeks at home with newborn Bobby before he flew out to the front line.
And he couldn’t contain his joy when he arrived home at Battlesbury Barracks in Wiltshire into the waiting arms of wife Sarah, 25 and three children.
Little Bobby beamed with delight as his dad playfully held him above his head and showered him with tender kisses.
Sergeant Dixon was among 63 troops from 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment who were reunited with their families yesterday.
He said: ”I’m so relieved to be home. It’s been four months and Bobby was only weeks old when I left.
”It’s amazing to see how much he’s changed. It’s so great to be back.
”I’m sure he (Bobby) still remembers me. He keeps smiling and talking to me but he’s about five times bigger than when I last saw him.
”I was expected him to be so tiny, but he’s grown so much.”
Wife Sarah added: ”Bobby’s a really good baby so it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be with Adrian gone.
”But it’s stressful worrying all the time about whether he will come back in one piece. I was also worried about him missing out on Bobby changing and growing.”
The couple, who have daughter Chloe, six, and son Thomas, three, will now enjoy some quality time together at home on barracks in Warminster, Wilts.
But Sergeant Dixon, who is originally from Whitehaven, Cumbria, said his homecoming was tinged with sadness for the two comrades the group lost during their tour.
Lance Corporals Graham Shaw and Liam Riley were killed on the same patrol in February by an Improvised Explosive Device.
Sergeant Dixon added: ”The hardest part was losing two of my men out there. Riley was my second in command and I was in training with Shaw.
”You don’t really have time to grieve until you come home. It’s bitter sweet – I’ve got this amazing family to come home to but their families will never have this moment.”
The soldiers – from Corunna, Alma and Somme Companies – served up to six months in Afghanistan.
They played a key role in Operation Moshtarak, providing security in the heavily-armoured Mastiff Protected Mobility Vehicles to allow a new road to be built through the Babaji region.
The soldiers were due to arrive back on Monday but their flight was delayed by the fallout from the volcanic ash cloud.
Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Tom Vallings thanked the families for their patience during the agonising 24-hour delay.
He said: ”The families of soldiers are well-practiced in remaining agile and flexible to the last minute.
”But clearly with a tour as difficult as these guys have experienced, being delayed even an hour causes families a degree of turbulence and I’m hugely grateful for their patience and their understanding.
”Our guys have been well-trained, well-prepared, and, most importantly, up for it and they’ve gone out there and they’ve done a great job.”
Mum Joanne Stalton, 47, travelled down from Doncaster to welcome home BOTH of her sons – Lance Corporal Christopher Dale, 26, and Corporal Antony Dale, 24.
The seamstress said: ”They’ve both been out there for six months – it’s been alright but we’ve had to keep busy.
”It’s their first tour in Afghanistan but they’ve both been to Iraq. It’s so good having them come home – it’s such a relief.”
Carla Maguire, 27, from Warminster, was waiting for her husband Lance Corporal Mark Maguire, 30, with daughters Shannon, six, and Tierney, four.
She said: ”It’s been the longest six months of my life. He had only just joined up again in August after he had already done two tours in Iraq, and he was straight off to Afghanistan. It’s amazing to have him back.”
Shannon added: ”I said ‘Welcome back,’ to daddy.”
Private Darren Meikle, 27, from Halifax, came home to his son Jack, seven, and wife Lara, 25.
Swinging Jack in his arms he said: ”It’s absolutely fantastic to be back.”
Jack echoed: ”It’s brilliant to have dad home.”