Sunday, March 29, 2009
A Soldier's Homecoming
I've lived in Fayetteville, NC for a little over 20 years now. Our family has had many friends and neighbors in the military and have seen them leave on deployments and have been blessed to welcome them all home...but I've never been to "GreenRamp" on Ft Bragg, I've just heard about it. But, as a civilian, you just assume that going to welcome your loved one home can't be a lot different than going to the airport and welcoming any loved one home...all that changed on March 24, 2009.
Chad was deployed to Afghanistan in November of 2008. He joined up with the 101st Division out of Ft Campbell, KY - A Company 2nd- 506th. He certainly was a lot more fortunate than most...his deployment was five months when most others were 12 months.
There is a system you have to go through when your soldier is preparing to come home. For security purposes, you might have an idea when they will be coming home, but no definite date...family is on stand-by until the official word. The first notice comes (or should come) about 72 hours out. That gives family like ours time to pack and hit the road for a 10 hour drive. The second notice comes about 12 hours out with a definite time...well, as definite as anyone can get...even civilian airlines are not always on time!
So the excitement begins when you pack your bags and start your ride. If you're as lucky as Rick and I were, you have someone waiting for you when you arrive to walk you through the process...my Guiding Angel was Diana and her two beautiful children...and the rest of the wives from 1st Platoon.
Rick and I drove on Post and to the Battalion offices where buses were waiting to take us over to the hanger to begin waiting for our soldiers. My Guiding Angel was waiting for Rick and me with the rest of the wives and children so that we could ride over together...I didn't fully appreciate it then...but this was the beginning of a bond that I am sure will last for a very, very long time!
One of the greatest parts of being a Grandparent is that you are usually recognized as one...and when you offer to help with little ones...those little guys usually recognize you as one of the good guys!
This little cutie kept me occupied on the ride over to the hanger!
I have a few more pictures below of the bus ride over....Rick told me his camera has image stabilization...but I guess that doesn't work for bouncy buses. My first picture is of Diana, my Guiding Angel...Chad will HAVE to get me a better picture of her later!
Diana "My Guiding Angel"
Riding the bus over, we were delivered to the hanger on the flight-line where the plane would be coming in on. This is the "Good New - Bad News" part. The good news is that you are only a short time away from seeing your soldier - the bad news is you need to be there two hours early! The American Legion was there with coffee, drinks and popcorn. The kids were all having a blast running around the middle of the gym - we even had a country western singer playing for us...I kept waiting for someone to start a line dance...but the didn't :) Then, every half hour, someone stood up at the podium and said, "Flight Number (I forget) is approximately 2 hours/1 and a half hours/1 hour/a half hour out! "
Then the big announcement comes that they are heading in...THIS is where it's good to have friends that have done this before...the trick is to quietly start gathering the kids up and move outside to get the GOOD spot. Start jumping up and getting excited, well, then you have to fight the crowds!!
And we wait...Moms and Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas, wives and children, friends, relatives, Veterans that still come out to show their appreciation! It's like a huge family reunion.
And then someone yells, "The PLANE!!"
It seems to take forever for it to land, then it taxis in.
And then the first soldiers begin to deplane....
That's when it hits you...you are now a part of something a lot bigger than you thought. I knew that Chad was on that plane...he'd called us from Maine about 4 hours before that...but all of a sudden I really needed to see him. As you watched soldiers deplaning you thought of all those that had gone over...and not come home. You remembered those that had deployed with this group who had come home early injured. All the prayers - all the time that he been gone came down to one final prayer, "Thank You."
We watched them file by - then finally - that one soldier out of many that raised his finger to say his first "Hello"
And it was all good....
BUT we still couldn't reach out for that first hug...nope, first they had to drop their gear
Then we were herded back into the hanger. As soon as we were settled, the back doors of the hanger were pulled back and in entered our soldiers!!
There was a brief...and they were good, it was a very brief, welcome home speech...then they were dismissed for 15 minutes with family!!
This is the last picture that Rick took that day. There was then a lot of waiting around while they turned in their gear - then we took Chad back to his apartment.
Rick and I thought we would take Chad out to dinner...celebrate...but when he got to his apartment Chad immediately took off his uniform and boots, changed into his pajama pants and t-shirt and we took one look at him and said, "He'll never change out of that to go out!!"
Thank goodness there was an awesome barbecue place across the street that we ordered take out from! We brought that back (with sweet tea of course!!) ate dinner, heard stories and looked at his pictures. And yes, every once in a while I would reach out and touch him....just because I could.