In situations like this one never knows whether to embrace the inevitable elation or the inescapable guilt. The past 48 hours have been some of the longest of my life as I am now back on American soil. The return trip was little more than the reverse of my trip to the middle east. And while it was uneventful outwardly, it was tumultuous inwardly.
One of the things causing the tumult is my wife and kids. I cannot explain the excitement and impatience one feels when returning from a place like the one I just left. It seemed the flight would never end. I planned and played out in my minds eye the reunion that would take place when we landed. While I was in Korea for a much longer period of time, the anticipation of this reunion was much greater, I think, because of the magnitude of the events I've just come through. There is an appreciation for my family that far exceeds anything I've known heretofore. On the short drive from the airport into town, I called my wife and told her where we were. Here was the first indication that all my planning and visions of the grand reunion were thrown into the garbage pile. I had anticipated coming home just after school let out and seeing my wife and kids waiting in the parking lot. However, as we approached home, it was about 4:30 in the morning and my phone call woke my wife. Since our kids are old enough she left them in bed and quickly drove over to pick me up. Just seeing her standing there was incredible. She could have been covered in seaweed and she still would have looked fabulous at that point. But she wasn't. She was all gussied up...hair done, a bit of make up, brushed teeth, pressed clothes, looking as beautiful as anyone I've ever seen. She was the only wife there, while the other guys had empty vehicles waiting for them. I think I'm the luckiest man in the world.
When we got home, my dogs, Deacon and Scout, not recognizing me, bristled up and barked for a few seconds. Once they figured out who this guy was coming home with their matriarch, the tail wagging began in ernest and I got a severe doggy greeting. The kids were still asleep so we sat down at the kitchen table (my very own table with my very own chair) and talked for a bit. I think my wife even made me some coffee (fresh and perfect out of my very own coffee pot). When the time was right, I snuck upstairs and woke my kids one by one. Their responses were fabulous. One half whispered, half yelled, "Dad!" and I got a wonderful hug. Another peeked up at me , smiled and said, "Hey Dad" and I got another wonderful hug. Still another just said, "Daddy" and then a wonderful hug. The last one I woke up didn't say a word. He just sat straight up, threw his arms around my neck and squeezed for what seemed an hour. I could have stayed there all day if he wanted to. After getting them ready we took them to school and then went out for breakfast and talked some more. And at last, we went home and I crawled into my very own bed with my very own pillow and slept like a baby.
The flip side of the reunion coin is the clear understanding that while I was enjoying my family and the comforts of home again, there were and are still soldiers downrange facing the same dangers I just got away from. Herein lies the guilt. Despite my joy at being back home, I want so much to be with my soldiers, praying with them, encouraging them, laughing and crying and bleeding with them. I can't wait until they get to come home.
I guess you can't avoid either the inevitable elation or the inescapable guilt, and I wouldn't want to. Instead, I rejoice in my time at home and I pray for my soldiers downrange. Anything else would be inexcusable.