This article is a tribute to the members of the United States military and their families. The efforts and contributions of these men, women, and children to and for our country are truly a family affair. While our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airman are those in the most danger and often live in real discomfort, the families have the stress of fending for themselves back home. We owe them all our thanks!
Children are born while fathers are away. Kids have birthdays, sports, and recitals without mom or dad around to cheer, applaud, and encourage. The moms and dads who remain with the family have the work of two parents and all household chores. I haven’t yet mentioned the loneliness, fear and heartache all feel.
I left off my last article mentioning that I was going to Ft. Campbell with my wife Kathy and our two daughters to greet our son upon his return from Afghanistan. Mike had been deployed four times before, but this was the first time he returned to the mainland where we could meet him. It was a new experience for us. I brought my camera with the sole purpose to record the event for my family. As it turned out, it became a bigger story for all of us.
We entered Ft. Campbell an hour prior to the scheduled arrival of the troops of the 101st Airborne and were directed to hanger 3 for the homecoming ceremony. As we walked into the hanger and saw all the families, the signs, and the children running around freely, I was overcome with emotion. My wife and daughters were walking ahead of me. When they turned around, they all had tears in their eyes. We were all struck by the same emotion of sadness and thankfulness. My oldest daughter said, “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.”
We took seats in the stands, had a drink and some popcorn provided by the family support group, and watched the families and kids waiting for loved ones. The welcoming signs many had so proudly prepared, and being dressed in their finest were both subtle hints to the obvious. They had waited a long time for this day! One child had a sign attached to his stroller saying, “I’ve been waiting all my life to meet my Daddy”. Another little girl boasted that her daddy was coming home to be her Valentine.
Finally, an aircraft could be seen in the distance. A chartered airliner was bringing the troops home on a very cold, sunny day. Everyone had poured outside to greet, and get a first peek of their loved ones walking across the tarmac from the plane. Despite the cold, the enthusiasm was intense. The soldiers had to take care of some business before coming into the hangar. Families returned inside for a brief ceremony prior to their reunions.
Upon release from the two-star commander, the soldiers broke their ranks and the families poured from the stands. It was a great scene, heartwarming, but I was a bit surprised. The crying tears of happiness I had expected were few. What I witnessed were mostly big smiles, kisses, group hugs, and handshakes all around. Kids were placed on the shoulders of their dads, one couple stared into each other’s eyes seemingly forever, unaware of anyone around them. One little girl hugged her daddy’s leg and wouldn’t let go. Another little one sucked on a juice box as her daddy hugged her mom.
The strong emotion we all felt when we first arrived had curiously not gotten out of our control. We took the lead of the brave families, who may have gone through this scene maybe two to five times before and had accepted this as their way of life. They didn’t act as if they had just survived a major interruption and sacrifice in their lives. Instead, they were thankful that they could be together once again. It was if they had become calloused to giving so much of their lives and loves, doing something more than 95% of the country has never had to do, yet all benefit from the service of these brave men, women, and children.
I tried to tell this story with words, but the story is likely better told with pictures. Please take the time to watch the slide show of this remarkable event (below). It will make you want to personally thank the next military family you see. In my opinion, in these days of strife and terrorism, you can’t thank them enough!