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NBC Philadelphia - Doug Shimell & Matt Maiorano
The Bennethum clan is once again back in one place.
It was almost a year ago that Paige Bennethum's dad stood in formation, ready to leave Pennsylvania for the deserts of Iraq.
The little girl didn't want to let her daddy go, so she stood alongside him and the rest of the 733rd Army Reservist Division as her mother snapped a photo of her defiance.
That photo quickly stole the hearts of the nation. But while the picture reminded her of her dad's love, it was just that -- a picture.
But that's all changed now, as Staff Sgt. Brett Bennethum has returned home for good.
"I like to have him back and its good," Paige said sitting with her daddy's arms wrapped around her.
Paige is excited to have her dad back so they can read books, play games and watch the Disney Princesses on his computer.
Brett also brought back the pink Care Bear Paige sent him to keep him company in the Middle East.
A year is a long time and Brett's family has changed since he's been gone.
"I can't believe how much she's grown," he said. "When I left, she was a lot more cuddly. Now she's a lot more teenagery."
It's not just Paige's size and attitude that's different. His younger daughter Lena has grown from a "potato" to a little girl and he now has baby Chase to raise.
"When I left, we kinda outnumbered them," Brett said. "It's a lot noisier."
Brett says he's glad to be home and credits his wife for keeping the family running while he defended our freedom.
"Without her I wouldn't be able to do what I do," he said.
For Abby, she's glad to have Brett home for many reasons – including the fact that getting in and out of the car with the kids will be infinitely easier. But she says it will take time to adjust.
"I had a system for everything…and whenever he's not doing things the way I've been doing them, I wind up going 'I have a system and you're messing it up,'" she joked.
As for that little photo that captured the real cost of war, the Bennethums say they're glad it could bring attention to the sacrifices that are made.
"We might not like to be away, but someone's gotta do it…and that's OK," Brett said.
"They do it because…there's a bigger picture," Abby added.
The photo can be found big and small inside the family's Lehigh Valley home. Paige wears the photo around her neck in a locket and a large version hangs on the living room wall – gifted to the family by oversize graphics company Fathead.
It's a constant reminder of how much every moment is worth.
"Now I'm always gonna remember that he's going to be back after work every day," Paige said.