Cheers and screams from dockside crowds greeted the USS Shiloh and USS Mobile Bay, and their sailors were quickly wrapped in tearful embraces.
"Oh my God, we're home," Seaman Brittney Kmetz, 20, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, said as she watched the spectacle from aboard the Shiloh and scanned the throng for her parents.
After all the time apart, the wait for sailors to disembark seemed interminable.
"Daddy! Daddy! Come here now!" 3-year-old Ashley Anderson yelled from the dock.
"I'll be there soon," called back Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Anderson, 34, of Flippin, Ark.
The ships, part of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln battle group, fired Tomahawk cruise missiles during the war, which forced them to remain on the longest Navy deployment since Vietnam. They were the first Navy ships to return from the war to the West Coast.
The ships were met by private boats and other Navy vessels sounded greetings. A signalman aboard the docked USS Coronado flashed "Welcome back" as the Shiloh entered San Diego Bay.
"Glad to be back," Shiloh signaled back.
Amid the reunions were first meetings.
Seaman Geoffrey Grazett, 20, of Boise, Idaho, nervously approached his wife, Jennifer, put his arms around her and then stroked the head of his 2-month-old daughter, Gwen.
"It has been hard having him gone," Jennifer Grazett said. "I'm not going to take my eyes off him for the next few days." She was looking forward to turning over "diaper duty" to her husband.
The battle group was on its way home when it was ordered to the Persian Gulf to support the war.
As the Shiloh steamed toward port, Petty Officer 2nd Class Roger Cooper said he knew he had some explaining to do to his 6-year-old son, who had counted the days until his father was supposed to return in January.
"You can't expect a 6-year-old to understand why you can't come home," said Cooper, 30, of Lakeland, Fla.
Many of Shiloh's 400 sailors were up late the night before, walking the passageways, packing up belongings and thinking about long-awaited reunions.
"It's like the night before Christmas. It's the anticipation factor. You can't sleep," said Lt. Kate Macleod, 23, of Vienna, Va.
Many craved not just their families but also other comforts of home — driving a car, eating at a favorite restaurant or enjoying a nice, civilian brew.
"The coffee here is nothing like Starbucks," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Katie Berven, 24, of Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Soldiers of the Army's Third Ranger Battalion also returned home from Iraq Friday to joyful welcoming ceremonies in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Troops aboard the the USS Abraham Lincoln are set to return to San Diego from Iraq sometime next week. The U.S. aircraft carrier has been at sea for nearly nine months, longer than any U.S. carrier now on duty. President Bush is scheduled to spend the night on the ship and give a speech on-deck on Thursday.