Homecoming celebration for Illinois National Guard members at O'Hare

They've been protecting our country overseas, but now it's home for the holidays for some members of the Illinois National Guard.

And they got a big surprise thank you when they arrived at O’Hare Wednesday afternoon.

There was nervous energy on the faces of parents and family members at O’Hare as a half dozen members of the Illinois National Guard returned home via American Airlines for the first time in nearly a year.

Members of the 633rd Theater Gateway team, which is based in Des Plaines, have spent the last nine months in Kuwait, helping process and transport thousands of military personnel throughout the Middle East.

Captain Scott Liebhaber took a leave of absence from his job as a Chicago cop.

"It feels excellent to be back. This feels awesome after ten months being in another country. Be back in the US feels really good,” he said.

In addition to the families, about 20 Chicago police and firefighters stood welcome at the gate, something they do for all active duty military returning from overseas.

A spokesperson for American Airlines says they try to provide this welcome home for all returning members of the military, for a very good reason.

"Many of our team members are former military. About 60-percent of our pilots are former military. So we just have a strong connection to the military and ultimately it's the right thing to do,” said Leslie Scott of American Airlines.

In addition to the soldiers arriving back in Chicago, five other members of the team arrived in Springfield Wednesday.