The Happiest of Homecomings

Our Navy Corpsman's homecoming

After 9 1/2 months apart, my family was so happy to reunite a few days ago at Jacksonville International Airport. My dear friend Daron Dean, chief photographer at The St. Augustine Record — where I used to work as a reporter, took these photos for us.

Every commercial, every news report, even a snapshot in the newspaper — they all instantly trigger tears when I see a family finally reunite after a parent has been serving in a war zone.

Getting ready to welcome Daddy home.

I think what makes my heart ache is not so much the happy reunion, itself, but the looks on the children’s faces. It’s like they’re finally free to let down their guard and reveal how tough these long months without dad or mom have been. It’s a look of absolute happiness and absolute relief at the same time.

“I’m going to hug Daddy THIS tight when he gets here,” my son tells me.

Somehow, though, I managed to hold it together when my own family reunited a few days ago. The joy of seeing my little boy run to his Daddy, and my 18-month-old daughter shyly walk up to him for a hug, drowned out any memory of how hard the last 9 1/2 months had been without him. And while I like to think of as a website more about all of our families than mine alone, I couldn’t resist sharing our photos with you all.

The moment is almost here — and the whole family is ready!

As soon as my husband was in sight, my 4-year-old broke into a run to get the first, well-deserved hug from his Daddy.

In truth, many of our families have been through these tough separations, and many will go through them again. They’ve almost become like a routine for some. For my husband and I, this was the fourth time we had to say goodbye, not knowing if or when we would see each other again for sure. But the months in between are a time when you learn what you’re really made of: how strong your faith in God really is, how much you really can manage a household on your own, or how little sleep you really can survive on.

My daughter melts all of our hearts when she shyly walks into Daddy’s arms for her first hug.

With my husband finally back at home, I have a profound sense of admiration for all the other families who deal with deployments, and for single parents who always manage their homes and take care of their children alone. Most of all, I have such an admiration for my husband, who had to give up his home, his family and all the comforts of living in the United States to go to a place with few comforts, deep sadness and great danger. He spent his deployment in a remote part of Afghanistan, where we were lucky to be able to reach each other by phone once every week or two — and often the weak line would disconnect minutes into our conversation.

We finally get our “Welcome Home” kiss.

My husband, a Navy Corpsman who was part of a surgical team, had the heart-wrenching job of receiving and helping to treat the injured, who were often young Afghan children that had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were those who accidentally set off bombs when they were curious about a strange object sticking out of the ground, or when they were trying to tend to their family’s animals. Others came with gunshot wounds. And yet most showed no emotion, no tears, hardened from living in a country that’s been at war longer than they’ve been alive. I think if I had been there, I would have had the hardest time letting any of those children leave the confines of the base, knowing I was releasing them back into a life of danger. How sad that they face such a perilous life, just because they happened to be born there. And how grateful I am that my children and I were fortunate enough to be born in a nation with such wealth and opportunity. Even in tough economic times, what we have here in the U.S. is an absolute bounty compared to the war-torn nations where our brave soldiers serve.

By the time we head to baggage claim, both kids are inseparable with Daddy (and mama becomes the carrier of everyone’s stuff!).

So I share our happy pictures and our story as a way to thank my husband, to thank all of our brave men and women serving in hostile areas, and to hopefully remind everyone to appreciate this wonderful country and to never forget what so many have done to protect it.

One of many bear hugs the kids have shared with Daddy since this happy day.

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  1. Jennifer Baudin says:

    This story is so touching.. my husband just left to go over there for 9 months as well.. we have 3 children twins 11 and 3 year old girls.. So far we are going by email and when we are on the phone it does cut off here and there.