Wednesday, July 17 was a big day for our family. My oldest son returned from a nine month deployment to Afghanistan. It was a tough nine months. Due to the nature of his mission we knew very little of what he was doing or where he was most of the time. Unlike other battalions, his battalion could not post updates and photos to their Facebook page. Before the 17th the last time I heard my son’s voice or saw my son’s face was around Christmas time when we had a quick Skype call. To say we were excited for his homecoming is a major understatement.
Our daughter was attending her church youth group camp this past week. We had to stop by the camp to pick her up on our way to Fort Stewart. On our way tot he car from her cabin I saw something shining on the ground. It was a small coin like piece of metal with the likeness of a Spartan warrior on it. It made me choke up. My son was part of the Spartan platoon during this deployment. I took this as a very good sign.
We checked into our hotel in Savannah for our daughter to change out of her grubby camping clothes then it was off to Fort Stewart. The entire trip I kept checking the Fort Stewart Flight Checker web site to make sure there were no changes. Half way to the base I received a call that the location of the homecoming was changed from Cottrell Field to the gymnasium due to threatening weather. At least the time didn’t change.
We arrived almost two hours early, but we weren’t the only ones. Plenty of other families anxious for the arrival of their loved one were filing into the gym too. Veterans from previous conflicts welcomed us into the gym and handed us a small American Flag. I had seen photos of previous homecomings in the gym and decided that a seat near the floor would be the best plan. When you are close to the floor you can get to the soldiers quickly when they are released. Our family sat in the second row, center, saving places for other family and friends to join us. It was fun to meet other families as we waited.
Slowly the rest of our group arrived. My ex husband and his wife, with two of my sons good friends sat behind us. Another Citadel classmate and his wife arrived. Then my dear friend and fellow Citadel Mom, Jerri arrived with her daughter Jada.
Jerri helped me tremendously to get ready for this first deployment. Her husband is a master sergeant in the Army and they live close to Fort Stewart. They’ve been through a few deployments. I tried to learn from Jerri what to expect.
Slowly the stands filled up. The Army band members began to arrive. At some point about an hour before their anticipated arrival a gentleman announced that the soldiers had landed at Hunter Air Field and were loading the buses.
I started posting short updates to Facebook. So many of my friends have prayed for us this year. I wanted them to be a part of this exciting evening. My notifications began lighting up with notes from friends who were following my posts and photo updates.
Soon the announcement was made that they were one mile away. My stomach began to do flip-flops in anticipation.
A General then announced that they were lining up outside. he reviewed how the next few minutes would unfold. It was obvious he understood that after the obligatory uncasing of the colors, a prayer, the National Anthem and the singing of a couple of Army songs, the families really didn’t care what he had to say.
Our group along with everyone else in the stands began to comb the faces of the uniformed soldiers in front of us. Our daughter was the first to spot our guy. Once he saw us he gave a slight nod of his head as if to say “sup.”
I honestly can’t tell you what the General said. My heart was racing and my emotions were jumbled between totally excited to teary because the anxious waiting was over. I alternated between wanting to laugh in relief to tears of joy. Stanley moved to the floor to capture of photo of Nelson while he was in formation. Chelle and I made our way to the floor as the General finished his comments.
We ran to our soldier along with a room full of family and friends doing the same thing.
I found Nelson he had a huge grin on his face. That first hug was amazing. He hugged me, then me and Chelle, then my other son, Taylor, arrived and the four of us had a big group hug. Within seconds the rest of our group arrived for their hugs. Everyone was beaming. The photos began to be snapped.
The local CBS affiliate asked Nelson to make a few comments. His comments didn’t make it on air that night, but Stanley stood there with the camera man and got the interview on tape. We were all a little surprised that our health conscious soldier’s first wish was to go to McDonald’s for a Big Mac!
He gathered his bags as the rest of us waited outside the gym and took more photos. One of the final photos before we headed to his hotel room to continue visiting was of Nelson lifting his baby sister. It is a tradition that started when she was just a toddler. It was a sign that our guy was really home with his family.