TAMPA – Days before Christmas, it's the best gift a family could ask for: Specialist Robert D'Agostino is home from Iraq in time for the holiday.
The homecoming was a special present for the entire D'Agostino family, but the gift waiting for Robert was the chance to hold his 8-month-old son Nicholas, whom he'd never seen.
"It's real, it's hard to believe," Spc. D'Agostino said, holding his new son. "Wow. I'm just waiting to get home."
Also at the airport to welcome Dad home was D'Agostino's oldest son, 2-year-old Robbie, who was just a baby when his father deployed overseas.
"When he left, Robbie wasn't running around, he was toddling," said Beth Livingston, D'Agostino's mother. "He wasn't talking, and now he won't shut up."
D'Agostino's unit shipped off for Iraq one month before Nicholas was born. He's seen pictures and talked over the phone, but it's nothing like the real thing. The Army computer tech is on leave for the next 18 days, and the family plans to make the most of it.
"We've got a little party planned at home, kind of celebrate everything he's missed during the year, all at once," Livingston continued. "So we've put that together for him, kind of a surprise to him."
D'Agostino's wife Melissa has been taking care of the kids, with the help of her family since March, and for a long time, she had no idea when he would be coming home.
"It's good to know he's going to be here for his first Christmas," she said.
Now, everyone will be together again.
"I didn't think I was going to make it, but it was good," D'Agostino said of his 24-hour-trip from the Middle East. "Now I gotta do some Christmas shopping."