In mid-October 2006 our FRG planned and hosted a fantastic homecoming reception for our troops. Except for three of them. Sean and two others were in med hold and could not come home with the rest of the unit. For me, it was an un-homecoming event.
As assistant leader, I worked with my six dear friends from the FRG, my army family, to prepare for the festivities. I did not want to be there, and I am certain I did not make it easy for them. How could I be excited for them when my family would be left out on such a joyous occasion? How desperately I wished that Sean was coming home. My kids felt it too, although they tried not to show it. Everyone did a nose-dive that week.
We had to arrange for the speakers, refreshments, posters, parade route, busses to and from the airport, reception afterwards, and coordinate the calling of every family to let them know when and where their soldier would arrive. Many cross-levelled soldiers who were added to our unit to bring it to capacity were from other states and were flown directly home, so there was much flight information to communicate.
Military security prevented us from giving family members an exact time, so we had to tell them an approximate time to be on-hand to board the busses to the airport. Space on the busses was limited, so they had to choose who would be at the airport, and who would wait at the Reserve Center. We had many tense, and even angry family members because we weren't being specific enough, or we were causing family problems by not letting mom, dad, brother, sister, wife, Uncle Larry and the neighbor across the street all ride the bus. We were very unpopular.
And to top it off, Sean was not coming home. Nor did we have an ETA on his return.
I wanted to be there for these families as I had throughout the deployment. I had gotten to know the families from my phone tree quite well and was looking forward to seeing them and celebrating with them. But I didn't want to celebrate. Several times I backed out, but my friends convinced me to be there, that these soldiers all deserved a welcome home. Which in the end is what won me over.
I was there, but I was not happy. I smiled, I worked, I hugged soldiers as they came off the plane. In fact, I made it my mission to hug each soldier who, for whatever reason, did not have a family member present.
I had been planning with a set of parents from Las Vegas to get their son in the first seat of the first bus so that he could see them along the parade route. He didn't know they would be there. As we approached he said, "That guy looks like my dad. I think that is my dad!" and he got tears in his eyes.
The mayor spoke, a touching letter from a son to his father was read, and families hugged, laughed, and cried. People weren't quite sure what to say to me. Some asked about Sean. Some thanked me for all I had done. Some didn't say anything at all. Somehow, I made it through.
When it was over, families and their soldiers went home together. I went home alone.