Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Soldier Is Home

My Soldier is home.
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.

Which we happily accepted.  Because this is not easy.  It is not easy to watch someone you love walk down an airport hallway, knowing in a matter of hours, they will be in the heart of danger.  That yes, they are volunteers, yes they are well trained, yes they are surrounded by their Army brothers and all of them have the pledge and honor of never leaving anyone behind.  But that's still your son.  That's still your little brother.  And no matter how big their muscles have gotten, and no matter how much camo they are wearing, there's still a part of you that sees them as a laughing, giggling, chubby cheeked little boy.  There's a part of you that thinks of that little boy first thing in the morning, and last thing at night, and your prayer life grows to a place it has never been before, because of the worrying, and the wondering where they are and if they are okay.

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.

Chris was exhausted. He had been in like 5 countries and 2 states, in one day!
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!
We watched a local TV news report  my friend posted to my Facebook page, that you can see three short glimpses of us in!
Then, we settled in, all 5 of us in 3 beds for a short night of sleep.  Then, as early as we could in the morning, we took some more pictures of our soldier home on American soil, and started the long trek back to Virginia/North Carolina.

Chris will be "home" in Virginia in a few more months.  And you better believe, we will be putting that "Welcome Home Chris" banner to use one more time!

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.
One soldier in particular, Derek McConnell, still isn't all the way home.  He is still fighting, in his recovery in the hospital at Walter Reed.  I have had the honor and privilege of getting to know this soldier and his family, and I couldn't stop thinking of them as we were enjoying Chris's homecoming at Ft. Drum.  Because his family didn't get to stand in the stands and wave a flag, and find their soldier in the sea of camo in the gym.  Derek was seriously wounded. He has come a long way in his recovery, thanks to amazing battle buddies, an incredible medical team and a loving family, but he isn't done climbing to glory yet.  Derek - I want you to know that Chris and all those guys have literally carried you everywhere with them since you left Afghanistan.  They carry you in their hearts, and since we sent them that flag that you autographed, they have carried that with them every time they have gone out to work.

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!


Amber Scameheorn said...

I just love, love, LOVE homecomings, whether they are for my family or for someone else. Welcome Home, Chris! Thank you so much for your service.

Anonymous said...

This made me ball! My husband is in 3rd BCT 4-25FA and he will be arriving in Fort Drum very soon! This just makes it seem more real that I will be with him soon. Thank you for was very touching! Team Derek

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Welcome home to your husband and thanks to him and you for his/your service!!