And now, my mother can sleep.
After a year of anxiety for every car that drove down her street.
And a year of deep breaths before every phone call she answered.
My little brother is home. Safe.
It was like a family relay race getting up to Fort Drum, NY to welcome him home. My mom and stepdad drove from North Carolina, to my sister's house in Virginia, with Chris's truck. Then my sister drove with them up to our place, just outside of DC. They stayed the night here, then the next morning, I drove, and we all made our way to upstate New York. (a jack knifed tractor trailer at 5:15 in the morning led to a GPS nightmare that sent us to Syracuse two separate ways, but that's beside the point)
We got to our hotel room, free thanks to my Hilton Honors points (yay), and started piling in there like the ghetto fabulous family that we are. Roll away bed, and all.
We took our turns getting ready, then gassed Chris's truck up, and got some dinner near the base.
It was FREEZING there, and I think it was actually considered unseasonably warm!
We made it to McGrath Gym, where the Homecoming Ceremony was scheduled to begin, about an hour early. My sister and I hung the awesome banner she had made for him that we held in the Norfolk Airport when he came home for leave in October.
I had to get a little creative because we were originally planning to HOLD the sign, but we saw an opportunity to hang it, and realized that we would both be double fisting cameras and video cameras. I knew my husband would be proud that I came up with a creative solution for rigging up the sign...
Yes, those are the usb cords from my sister's camera bag. They worked. Some rednecks thought it would be a good idea to sit in front of our sign. Tracy and I regulated, and moved the sign right to the middle of the bleachers. Which worked, because when Chris marched in, he said he saw the sign first thing!
We couldn't find Chris at all! Tracy and I were both scanning the crowd with our cameras zoomed all the way in. The ceremony was short and to the point. I tried to take it all in, knowing this was it. Chris is home, for good. He has DONE THIS. We are such a proud family!
The Army band played a few songs, an announcer talked about the Brigade's accomplishments, and how this was the first group to come home, then allowed the soldiers to be at ease, so they could give their families a hand.
None of us recognized Chris until the ceremony was over, and the guys were released to their families. I took my mom's hand, and said, "Let's go!" and we made our way to the bleachers. There was a sea of soldiers reuniting with their families. Sons and moms and dads. Soldiers hugging their small children and their wives and girlfriends. Then, I saw my soldier. He was walking toward us. He had taken his hat off and had it in his hands. "There he is!" I led my mom around another reunion, and had my iPhone ready to record the second she saw her baby.
Of course she got the first hug. She deserved it. And though this 30 year old SGT would probably never admit it, he wanted to hug her too, like nobody's business.
We all had our hugs, and squeezes and pictures with our soldier.
We decided to just head back to our hotel room, all together, and we just laughed and talked and caught up. It was a really special time, and I may or may not have been the only sensitive sap to cry!
local TV news report my friend posted to my Facebook page, that you can see three short glimpses of us in!
Let me tell you a couple more things. Chris didn't even want us to take any pictures and post them on Facebook or where ever because he is the first of his guys to come home, and he's not really ready to celebrate until they are ALL home. So, know that all of this is from ME, not from him, okay? We are still praying for each and every one of the members of the 3rd Platoon, as they wrap up their missions in Afghanistan and all come home in waves. They should all be back to Ft. Drum by the middle of March.
Another thing that I also have to note. This sign in the gym was a huge reminder to me that not every soldier comes home like my soldier got to come home. Standing. Safe. In one piece.
I dedicate this blog post to Team Derek. Climb to glory. All the way! To the top! Team Derek, I brought back a little something from Fort Drum for y'all, and I will see you soon!