4,000 service members greeted, served pizza as they return home for the holidays

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RICHMOND, Va. -- About 4,000 U.S. military men and women were served pizza and other snacks as they walked through the Richmond International Airport Wednesday and Thursday on their way home for the holidays.

Businesses like Papa Johns, Wawa, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Delaware North; along with the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia, the Richmond Christmas Mother, and dozens of volunteers, came together to make it happen.

Eddie Ibarra was one of the thousands of service members who came through RIC Thursday, and was given a free pizza. He said he's been away from his home in San Diego for about four months.

"I haven't eaten a pizza since I left so it was really good to eat the pizza," said Ibarra. He added that he had expected the trip home to go differently.

"We were expecting to get yelled at and get us going real quick, so they can get us out of here. So it's nice to have a nice calm environment right now," Ibarra said.

But the pizza wasn't the only surprise waiting for the troops at the airport. Among tons of other snacks, there were several volunteers wishing them a Merry Christmas -- including one dressed as Santa.

Eddie Ibarra

"Yesterday I was here and I had a suit -- and when I got home I thought, 'oh they need Santa!'" said Teri Reece with The Blue Star Mothers of America.

Reece said she knows what it's like on the other end.

"Two years ago my son was deployed at Christmas time," Reece said. "So I know what it's like to not have your son or daughter home at Christmas time which is very difficult for moms."

But the surprises didn't end there. Ibarra said his mom doesn't know that he's coming home

"I'm actually going to surprise my mom when she gets home," Ibarra said. "She's going to start tearing up. I know that for a fact."

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