Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life in My World -- Just Cause

Abe told us there would be a welcome home celebration when he returned from Iraq.  He hoped we could be there and we hoped that his arrival wouldn't collide with Ande's wedding so that we could be there.  Calvin and I were so very glad we got to be there for the celebration.  So very,very glad.

near Abe and Grace's home

Grace and Abe live on post.  Their backyard is the golf course, and the Cheyenne Mountain is out the guest bedroom window.  It's a beautiful location and home, and, for a post that hosts four brigades, relatively private.  In fact, Grace called one day to tell Calvin she saw a coyote out her living room window and we saw it while we were there, too.  (Calvin hid behind the air conditioning unit in the backyard and tried to call it in by imitating a sick cat.  I suppose he'd have killed it with the broom.  It did need put out of its misery as it had the mange really bad and was hairless.)

Reveille plays across the post at 6:30 am and again at noon.  Taps is played at 10:00 pm. (Hearing them is worth making a new friend so that you can stay on post and wake up and go to sleep to them.) Warrior ethos signs are near the gates as well as other stats of how the post is doing.

It's very inspiring to see the soldiers' commitment to their work and our country posted everywhere.  Drive around the base and you see acres and acres of tanks and trucks and soldiers in rucksack marches. . .always in preparation to defend.

Because there are several military bases in Colorado Springs, the town is good at showing their appreciation. This is a mall wall.

Abe's group was set to arrive at Fort Carson at 6:30 am on Wednesday.  The doors to the event center opened at 4:30 am and families immediately began to gather.

There were activities planned to keep the little kids busy while they waited for their dads.  There was popcorn, bagels, and pop served on one end of the event center and a bouncing house at the other end.  One female soldier led the kids in a few line dances, the limbo, and Duck-Duck-Goose in the center of the floor for over an hour.  She was animated and fun and the kids were cute.  A chaplain walked the crowd handing out breath mints.  (I thought that was sweet . . . and smart.) It was very festive and fun to visit with the other families.  Ryan, a fellow West Point graduate, was in the same group as Abe.  His fiancée Emily and Grace are friends.  Emily and her parents as well as Ryan's family sat in front of us and we visited with them while we waited.  Ryan's dad and Calvin talked at great length, I love listening to men's conversations especially when it's about their families and country.

Grace and Emily
The soldiers landed at an air base several miles away and were bused over to Fort Carson.  When they showed (via broadcast) the soldiers disembarking the airplane the families cheered and cheered and then watched quietly for a glimpse of their soldier.  When the individual soldiers were spotted you'd hear a mini-cheer in the crowd.  It was exciting to see the men and two women carrying their gear down the steps of the airplane hurrying as fast as they could.  They were greeted at the bottom by a small band and somebodies important enough to shake their hands.

And then . . . and then . . . after waiting for nearly three hours, we got to see them.  It reminded me of being a little kid at the ward Christmas party when the song leader told us if we could sing "Jingle Bells" loud enough Santa might come and bring us all a bag of candy.  But this time, the song that was playing was Lee Greenwood's, "I'm Proud to Be An American" and the same soldier that led the kids in dance and song told everyone that the soldiers were waiting just outside the door to come in and as soon as they could hear us singing and cheering they'd be coming through the door.  (Even typing this a few days later I still get that incredible feeling all over again.  It was such a humbling experience to be with a group of people who have given so much.)  We sang "I'm Proud to Be An American" loud enough to hail Santa and with enough tears to bring out the Kleenex --  mascara was running everywhere.  When "American Soldier" was played, the door opened and in marched the troops.  All 227 in this returning group.  (Several groups have returned in the last few weeks, two more were planned for later in the day, and more slated in the coming week.)

After a prayer, the singing of the national anthem, and a few words by one of the commanders, they were released to find their families.  It was wonderful.

As I saw teenagers, little children, and the little babies I couldn’t help but recognize the sacrifice that so many make when a soldier signs up.  There were lots of little babies in the crowd and I wondered how many dads had missed the births.  There were lots of little babies just learning to walk and I thought of how those babies were just newborns when their dads left and what he'd missed in that first year.  I saw teenagers in lettermen's jackets and thought of all the games missed and no dad in the stands to cheer them on.  Not to mention the sacrifices of the wives and husbands left behind.  I couldn't help but be reminded of all that had transpired in the last year between Abe and Grace and Clara.  It was very humbling to see first hand what so many give for something we’ve just come to expect. 

The only thing that made me sad was seeing a lone soldier – a soldier who had no one waiting for him.  He stood off by himself while his buddies were literally wrapped in the arms of love.  Because a solider cannot drive for 24 hours upon returning home, that lone soldier waited on the outskirts until he could catch a ride to the barracks with someone.  Because I was so caught up in the excitement of the return, I didn’t see him until the event center had nearly cleared.  We walked over shook his hand, patted his arm, welcomed him home, thanked him for his sacrifice and service, and wished that we could magically create a family for him.  If I lived near a post that frequently deployed soldiers I think I would show up, just ‘cause, and look for those lone men and women who stood off from the crowd with no one to hug them, and that’s what I’d do.  I’d hug them and let them know they were appreciated.

After the families had reunited, the men went out to collect their gear.  Remembering that Ande had challenged Sheridan to arm wrestle Abe back at Christmas when Grace had organized Christmas socks for each member of Abe's platoon (which included letters), I introduced myself to him and said, "I understand you can beat Lt. Payne in arm wrestling."  He laughed and said, "Yes ma'am," and then politely stood at attention so I could take a picture.

Abe loves the men in his platoon, but not enough to want to be the last man to leave.  He couldn't wait to see his new home, shower, and get into civilian clothes.

After he saw their new home we sat on the living room floor (they're very excited to buy furniture) and visited about his experience and things of home.  Ande called and Abe talked to her, then he called Cali and Ray and left messages on their phones.  Because Ty had responsibilities at the Air Force Academy, he missed Abe's homecoming, so after lunch at Olive Garden (Abe wanted Papa John's, but kindly acquiesced) we drove up to the Academy to see Ty.  Michelle met us there, too.

Michelle, Ty, leftover Olive Garden for Ty, Abe, and Grace

We had less than an hour together before Ty had to report to duties, but the boys talked non-stop during that time.  The rest of us just listened and watched from the sidelines.

Grace and Michelle in Arnold Hall

It reminded me of when the boys were little and one of them would crawl out of his bunk and join the other in his.  They would talk late into the night about whatever it is boys talk about -- conquering Mario's next level,  Lego's, Michael Jordan, Steve Young, and . . . maybe girls?  The subject matter was still about conquering (Ty flew a plane that morning for the first time and was telling Abe about it) and . . . girls.  They both really love their girls and like to talk about them.

What an incredible time. Calvin and I are so very blessed.  Our family is so very blessed.  Our land is so very blessed.  That night as we lay in bed listening to taps play, I thanked God again and again and again for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Ryan and Haley Krumblis said...

What a great post Aunt Jane. Just to let you know I have been waiting for this post since yesterday when I knew your plane was headed home and that you were that much closer to being to your computer. You captured everything. Thank you!

Kelly said...

Wow, Jane! This made me teary just reading about it, I can't imagine the feeling of being there in person. I love all those reunion pictures. So happy that Abe is home safe!

Myca said...

I didn't expect to be so emotional reading this post, but wow it brought back SO many familiar feelings and emotions. I was one of those women with a little boy running around who's father had left when he was just 3 months old. I remember waiting outside for the hundreds of soldiers to get off the plane. Jared was the LAST one off... I was searching frantically and pushing through the crowd to try and get to him. I still remember to this day Boston's reaction to his dad being home...I am so glad Abe made it home safe and he and Grace can be together as a family again. What an amazing blessing to have him back. We are so grateful for his sacrifice.

Lyle and Mary: said...

I cry occasionally when I read your posts. This was one of them.
Glad your family was reunited.
Tell Abe words are truly inadequate to express our appreciation, but thank you for your service in the military!

Samantha said...

Man, I always get emotional when you tell your stories about your boys fighting for our country. It always makes me feel so grateful. It's a real blessing to be reminded of all the sacrifices people make our freedoms and for this country.

Derek-Jenny-Kaitlynd-Ethan-Dylan said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I read every word.
I have not wanted to call Grace and bug her...she has so much time to make up for.
I cannot wait until we live closer to them. It is going to be so wonderful!
Thank you again.

Ande Payne said...

YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVED seeing the pictures. Welcome home to Abe!

Cassidy said...

I'm glad you are posting this!! Thanks for the updates!! Welcome home Abe!!!!!!

ps... in the one picture with you, Aunt Jane, you look GREAT!! I love that sweater. ;)

Marie said...

Wow! I'm so happy for all your family. The picture of Abe and Grace holding each other just about did me in. Welcome, welcome home!

melanie said...

Welcome Home Abe!!

What a beautiful post Jane. I'm sitting here crying as I felt all the emotion in your words. I loved the photos, I love the reunions, the images you painted in my mind, I love how compassionate you are for 'the one' and I love that your family is so blessed because you in turn bless others {me, me!}. Love you.

Susan said...

Oh so sweet. I was tearing up almost at every sentence. I'm so glad you have your family reunited. So very glad.

mommar said...

What a sweet reunion---All of them!
I cried at Abe and Graces picture, at the one of you and Calvin, and the one of Ty and Abe! I am so grateful and proud of those boys...and for you and Calvin and the amazing family you are! Love to you all and DANG what I would give to be there next week for Ande's wedding.

Love you all, Charlotte

Becky said...

We are all so blessed because of your boys and those like them that serve. Please give them a huge thank you from our family!

This beautiful post has left me teary-eyed but so grinning from ear to ear.

So happy for all of you!

Katie said...

Thank you for sharing this...what a wonderful experience to be a part of. Yes, these men and women are amazing and we often forget the sacrifices they give in order to protect and serve us all. What a proud mama you must be. Congratulations on having all of your kids home (well, in the US) now!

Lucy said...

Oh...I get teary reading about your family's service. What a moment. My heart breaks for that lone soldier too. I hope your kind comments were enough for him that day.

Congratulations to you and your family. I am so happy Abe is safe and reunited with his sweet Grace.

michelle said...

Wonderful!! I love all of these pictures. I love that Grace and Abe can be together now. I love that the boys have so much to talk about. You and Calvin must be very proud.

Tiffany Fackrell said...

I LOVED every word of this post. WELCOME HOME ABE!

Deidra said...

Because I am teaching 5th grade, I get to teach American history. We are getting ready for our program all on freedom. Another teacher taught the ASL signs for the chorus of "I'm Proud to be an American" to the kids today and I thought of this post and teared up. I'm proud to be an American and am thankful for the men and women you protect my freedom.