Although their country sent them out of sight, Brent Ogle and Danial Ferris were never out of mind.
Messages boards welcoming home the two Sequoyah High School grads littered Highway 411 Sunday afternoon.
And the roaring of Patriot Guard Rider motorcycles added a moving crescendo to a weekend of patriotism in the tight-knit community.
"Even though they might have felt alone, they weren't alone," said Specialist Danial Ferris' mother Jackie Yates. "Coming home to this, I think helps them understand that we were there with them."
Appreciative friends, family, and neighbors greeted Ferris at the Shell station a few miles up the road from his home. He and his family received a motorcycle and police escort to their Madisonville house.
They gave him a hero's homecoming. But as a man who turned 21 in Afganistan- he's looking for the simple life.
When asked what he's looking forward to most, Ferris replied: "Probably drinking a beer, going to be honest on that one."
The weekend began Saturday with the much-anticipated arrival of Brent Ogle.
Both young men just returned from tours in Afghanistan.
"I didn't expect really anybody, I expected only my mom and my dad to be here," said Ogle while surveying the crowd holding giant American flags.
"I'm just excited to have him home, it's been a long awaited," said Ogle's mother, standing next to her son.
Planning and coordination go in to these events, mostly put together by the Patriot Guard Riders, a dedicated group of volunteers.
"These are special when we are allowed to bring them home, and they come home alive," says Ride Captain Morgan Clough. "It is such a sad and somber mood when we have to bring one home that didn't make it."
In 2011 the community lost 21 year-old Lance Corporal Frankie Watson. The guard riders also rode in events to commemorate him.
And it's perhaps because they're a community that's familiar with loss that they've become a community that never takes homecomings for granted.
"I grew up when the veterans came home from Vietnam, they weren't welcomed home with honor, they weren't welcome with with respect," said Clough with his arm clasped around Ferris. "Today the one thing about Monroe County, they have honor and they have respect for you."