The second deployment for Montana Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Drew Komrosky wasn't quite the same as the first.
"This was my first deployment by myself," he said. "My wife was deployed with me on the first one, in Iraq. It was a lot harder without her."
His wife, Stacey, was back home in Hamilton waiting with their now 4-month-old son, Tucker. She joined her husband and 21 other Guard soldiers with the 484th Military Police Company who were deployed to Afghanistan last spring for a Freedom Salute Ceremony on Sunday honoring them and their families.
The men and women from the 484th, based in Malta and Glasgow, returned home last fall, and 120 more are scheduled to come home next month.
More than 100 people — soldiers, friends, family and officials — attended Sunday's ceremony at the Billings Convention Center, 1223 Mullowney Lane. The event gave state and Guard officials the chance to say thank you to the soldiers for their service.
"You remind us that there is nothing we can't do when we come together and work together to accomplish a mission," said Lt. Gov. John Walsh, a retired Montana guard brigadier general who served as the state's adjutant general.
With Montana boasting the highest per capita veteran population in the nation, Walsh told the soldiers that they're joining a swelling number of veterans. He said 70 percent of Montana's active Guard has now been deployed. Before 2003, a Montana Guard unit hadn't been deployed since World War II.
All of the speakers, including representatives who read letters from Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, touched on the difficulties faced by the families left at home during the deployment and thanked them as well.
While cradling the couple's young son, Stacey Komrosky said she didn't realize initially what it would be like as a family member and not a deployed soldier.
"I do understand it and appreciate all of this now, absolutely," she said. "I really think, having done both, that it is harder to be the one waiting back at home."
Officials presented each of the 22 soldiers with gifts to commemorate the deployment — pins, coins, a framed flag for those returning from a first deployment; a commemorative clock for second-timers; and a special plaque for those on a third deployment.
One of the speakers, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, congratulated the soldiers.
"Thank you for your service, thank you for your sacrifice," he said. "It's good to have you home and welcome back."
During the ceremony, the crowd gave a standing ovation to a half-dozen students and a teacher from Boulder Elementary after the Guard honored the school for its students' work on cards and letters for military families.
After the ceremony, Drew Komrosky talked about the differences in serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his first deployment, he served as convoy security and, while in Afghanistan, was part of a personal security detail for colonel.
He described it as a bit of a culture shock but also said the main difference is one that was fixed the moment he got home.
"It was good," he said. "But it was a lot of long days spent away from my family."