The eagle was due to land at about 11:00 pm, turn in weapons at the airport, load buses, and make the hour trip home. He was supposed to be in the gym here on post at about midnight., so the kids and I showed up at 11:15 because sitting around the house was doing us no good. Hunter got very excited when we arrived because he thought we were actually going to 'Raq to see Daddy. He was jumping up and down asking when we were going to get on the plane!
At 11:45 we got word the guys hadn't even loaded the buses yet. At 12:30 am we were told the guys had loaded buses and were finally on their way.
A whole hour longer to wait! It 'bout near killed me, I swear. Drew and Hunter spent the time running all over the gym. In the front of the gym they had rows of flags set up, along with two projection screens that had videos of the guys when they were in Iraq. Several times Hunter came very close to knocking something over. I could just imagine the rows of flags going over like dominoes. Thank goodness he petered out before anything actually did happen.
The gym was packed with family and friends waiting to see their loved ones. It really was something great to be a part of. I've had friends tell me how awful it is and what a horrible wait it is, and I have a few friends who don't even go when their husbands come home. I wouldn't miss something that like for the world! I didn't get to do a big ceremony like that when Husband came home from Afghanistan, so this was very special. There was so much energy and electricity in the air. Even when they told us about the last delay, we were just still so excited to finally be at that point. Our men (and women) were THAT close to us!!
At 1:35 am Hunter finally crashed and burned. He layed down on the floor and was out. Poor little guy! I picked him up and tried so hard to wake him up again. Around that time the guys who were running the "show" stopped playing the slideshow of pictures from Iraq, and started showing video of our troops getting off the plane just a few hours earlier. I didn't actually see Husband get off the plane, but that didn't matter because I realized the video was just a distraction.... those tricksters! They didn't want us to see our guys (and women) lining up outside the gym. Right there, that close to me, was my husband. Just a door separating us. Someone was peaking through a window and she shouted "they're all lined up!!" Screams of excitement and sounds of joy came from all over the gym.
I can't tell you what song was playing when they started to file in, all I can say is my heart hasn't beat that fast in a long time. I had no tears. I wasn't scared. I just wanted to see his face and make sure he could see mine. They filed in in a single line. One after the other. Walking down, standing at attention, eagerly searching the crowd for their loved ones. Soldier after soldier walking past, the crowd cheering, pictures flashing. I didn't see him walk in and I was so worried he'd already passed by me and I didn't notice. My friends saw their husbands and waved. I pointed out a few guys here and there to someone who had just come to take pictures for us.
287 soldiers walked past me before I finally saw mine. I know that because there were 288 total, and mine was the last one in the door. He caught my eyes right away and again, there were no tears. Just smiles bigger than I think I've ever smiled. He saw Hunter fast asleep on my shoulder and gave me a quick little smile/giggle.
The post commander stood up and gave the briefest speech I've ever heard, followed by these four beautiful words, "Soldiers, you are released."
The song "At Last" by Etta James blasted over the speakers and I was finally in his arms again. Still no tears, just the greatest flood of relief you can imagine. He hugged Drew and Louisa, and we tried to wake Hunter up. Hunter, who'd been waiting *so long* for that moment, would not be woken.
We had to go outside to find his rucksack, and then headed to the truck to take our hero home. (He doesn't like being called that, by the way.) Once we were at the truck Hunter opens his eyes and says, "Oh HI, Daddy!!" He gave Daddy a big hug and asked if he was home now. We buckled him in his carseat and he says, "Daddy, can we go home and go to sleep now?" hehe.
A week and a half later and we are well adjusted. Friday is a big re-deployment ceremony, and then he's on leave for 30 days. We get to sit around the house and be bums and relax. He's earned it.
We've both had an incredible amount of support during this deployment. Family, friends, and even strangers have given to us more than we feel we deserve. We don't feel we do anything special by living this life, but we thank everyone who recognizes what hard work it is. God has blessed us in many ways and we are so grateful for everyone who's helped us. God couldn't have given us a better extended family than all of you who prayed, sent cards and packages, gave love and support, and let me lean on them when I needed it. God gives us all our obstacles, but He also gives us support when we feel we can't get through.