To Kandahar and Back Home: A Year in the Making

US Army Specialist Timothy Sheaffer is welcomed home by his wife, Amanda.

A warm welcome  and special thank you to my guest blogger today, Debra Estep, author of “Shoulder to Shoulder” in Love You More Than You Know. She is the proud Ohio Air Force Mom of SSgt Vincent Aleandri. This is Debra’s blog.

In early June of 2011, family and friends of the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1484th Transportation Company gathered to attend a Call to Duty ceremony. 180 members were preparing to mobilize for active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Some were heading out for their first deployment, and others had been down this road before embarking on 2nd, 3rd, or 4th deployments. The soldiers and their families were well aware of the long year that lay before them. As the buses rolled away, tears rolled down so many faces. Young children could not grasp why Mommy or Daddy had to leave them.  Grandparents who could grasp the why, still had the same tears.

It takes great strength and perseverance to join the United States all volunteer military.   We’ve been at war for over a decade. Many of these young troops were in middle school when our engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq started. With the percentage of people serving being less than one percent of the population, many Americans don’t personally know anyone in the military.

I happen to know one of the soldiers from the 1484th Transportation Company–US Army Specialist Timothy Sheaffer. I met Tim when his Mother, Tanya Phillips, and I became friends years ago. I will never forget the first photo I saw of Tim in uniform. I did a double take thinking, this can’t possibly be that same KID. My heart filled with pride, grateful that we have individuals willing to stand and protect this country.

Tim said goodbye that June day, to his young wife, Amanda. In less than
six months, Amanda was due to give birth to their first child. Tim was in Afghanistan where he was able to view the birth of his baby girl, Brooklyn, via a Skype internet connection.  Family back here in Ohio, surrounded Amanda and supported her through the labor and birth.

Several weeks later, Tim was able to take his R&R returning to Ohio for a short visit.
Those of us who have a family member serving, thank God for today’s technology that allows us to stay connected to our loved ones far away.  Emails, videos, and phone calls, are all life lines to ours and our military member’s mental well being at such a stressful time.

On Saturday June 2, 2012, family and friends again gathered at the University of Akron’s Rhodes Arena. This day, there were tears also. These tears were tears of joy and gratitude. The Ohio Army National Guard’s 1484th Transportation Company rolled in on buses after flying into Akron/Canton airport.There were cheers, flag waving and a band playing as the unit marched in. Some speeches were made, as the unit was thanked for their service.

The unit was stationed near Kandahar, Afghanistan. No one from the unit was killed in this deployment. Sgt. Michael Barkey, 22, a Lawrence Township member of the unit, was killed in Iraq in 2004 and eight others were wounded.

As this unit acclimates back to civilian life, we know that another unit has replaced them. Freedom is not free. The safety and security we enjoy is paid for by those who serve and those who give their lives.   Pray for them and please THANK them for their service !!!

Mom and Dad with darling baby, Brooklyn.

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Some Heroes wear capes

thank you heroes_1It is so hard to say good bye.  I watched as a ten month old baby kept reaching out his arms to be held by his soldier father. As that father gave his child back to his wife, the little one raised his arms and reached out for his father again and again. That soldier closed his eyes and just hugged his small son.

On a long narrow table there were rows and rows of white pillow cases graced with a close up picture of each soldier with the stars and stripes behind them.  The Family Support Group had the pillow cases made for the  families.  I overheard a very young looking soldier ask if his pillow case could be shipped to his parents’ home because they were unable to come to the send off. I asked him, “Do you have any family here today?” He replied that no one was able to come. I asked if I could give him a hug.  He said yes. As I hugged him I said, “This hug is from your Mom.”

Today, I was invited to attend the send off of 180 soldiers from the 1192nd Engineer  Co.  This is my son’s old unit. (My son is not being deployed.) I watched as anxious family members filed in to honor their citizen soldiers and pray for their safe return.  While a field of flags waved in the audience, General Wayt told the soldiers to turn around and face their families. The General told the families, “These are your heroes.”  He told the audience how Time magazine called them “Persons” of the year. The General asked for a round of applause for what these men and woman were getting ready to do. He thanked the families for their unwavering support and the burden they would bear. Thank you to all of our soldiers and their families.

The motto of the 1192nd is Commence A Finir–from start to finish.  We will continue to hold our heroes in prayer–from start to finish– for the year they will be gone. Some heroes were capes, our heroes wear combat boots.