June 28, 2010 was a sad day for me. My dear son returned to Afghanistan after a 15 day leave. Jeremy, his wife Casey, and their sons, Logan and Ryder, filled every day of his two week sabbatical with memorable summer fun. Two sun burned beach days, four fun-filled days at Disney, and three cook-your-favorite dinner nights. But like everything else in life, it came to an end. The airport goodbyes were flooded with tears and heavy hearts, so I heard. All I could think about at the time was Jeremy’s homecoming which was in four short months. The taste of sweet anticipation filled my mind and the memory of Jeremy returning from Iraq two years prior replayed like a movie reel.
Here’s how it all went down in July of 2008. Hopefully my description can do it justice.
We arrived at Hunter Army Base, made it through the main gate security checkpoint and were directed to an airplane hanger in the far northwest quadrant of the base. We parked in the lot along with the several hundred other ecstatic family members welcoming home The Combat Aviation Brigade-Echo Company 1-5.
My first heart flutter came as we marveled over the enormous size of the airplane hanger. It was bigger than big-it was awesome. With three travel-size packs of Kleenex, and six hand-held American Flags, and our ‘Welcome Home’ signs in tow, we entered the huge metal building.
Before settling into the bleachers that flanked the ends of the hanger, we stopped to scope out the Chinook Army Helicopter on display. Logan, who was two at the time, went nuts. Like a mini GI-Joe on steroids. That made me smile.
“Can I have your attention please,” said a voice over the loud speaker. “Would everyone please find a seat?” The five story metal doors at the back of the hanger began to close. Slowly, the mammoth doors inched giving off a loud ominous drone. Not a sound I’d ever heard before. That was heart flutter number two. Everyone scurried to the bleachers.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, husband, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and all family members. In a moment, the hanger doors will reopen. The soldiers of The Combat Aviation Brigade-Echo Company 1-5 will be in formation awaiting a command. After they are officially dismissed from their tour of duty, they will be released to you their loved ones.”
For ten long seconds, one could hear a pin drop. All eyes were fixed on the gigantic doors. The wives in their mini-skirts and bright glittery lipstick, the husbands holding their toddlers, the mothers with tears streaming down their faces, and the fathers with their hands across their hearts.
I held tightly on to my hubby’s hand and wiped the tears of joy from my face. “I love you.” I mouthed the words to my daughter-in-law.
As slowly as they closed, the doors began to open. Lined in perfect formation were 192 soldiers. They all looked the same. Camouflage fatigues, helmets, forty-pound bulletproof vests, and laced up weathered combat boots. An instruction to move came from their commander. All 192 soldiers marched in orchestrated cadence. Such a beautiful sight. A rustle was heard in the crowd as everyone searched for their Kleenex. Heart flutter number three.
An officer approached a microphone perched in front of the seasoned recruits. He spoke to the soldiers with respect and admiration. Acknowledging their unfathomable hard work and flawless dedication. Just before officially releasing them from their tour of duty, the captain led them in reciting the Army Creed. In perfect unison their voices echoed throughout the steel structure. The lyrics included words like honor, duty, respect, truth, and teamwork. The crowd was motionless and profoundly captivated. Next, they sang The Army Song. A strong mixture of altos and tenors bellowed their mantra. There wasn’t a dry eye in the entire building. Heart flutter number four.
“You are officially released to your families. Godspeed,” said the captain.
Through a maze of camouflage, Casey and Logan, little Ryder wasn’t born yet, searched for Jeremy. He found them. There were more hugs and tears than a reunion at a bustling airport. Watching them embrace, heart flutter number five took my breath away. After my son greeted his family, I approached, and cradled my hands around his chin. I peered directly into his eyes. “I missed you so. Welcome home, Son.”
“Thanks, Mom. It’s so good to be back,” Jeremy replied. His smile was brighter than the mid-day sun. I sighed out a breath and I will never forget the feeling as my heart danced with the meaning of life. My soldier was home.
In November of 2010, I had the privilege of welcoming my hero home once again. Oh what a sweet, sweet memory that was, too!