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Ask the Expert

Signal Photos

 

Kevin Buck: My son’s return from Afghanistan

Posted: August 28, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 28, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

On Aug. 8, my son returned home safely from his deployment to Afghanistan.

I would like to thank family, friends, coworkers and the complete strangers who offered support to Adam, my wife and me. Not a single person who learned of his combat tour failed to thank him for his service and express concern for his safety.

The Afghanistan war is not foremost in the minds of Americans as they go about the daily grind of getting and spending that is our life. However, when reminded that military men and women are still fighting and dying, people are gracious, thankful and humbled by their sacrifice.

When we learned that Adam was coming home from Afghanistan, the relief was palpable. He was posted to a country where a sizable percentage of the population was actively trying to kill him, and for five months we had tried to suppress those thoughts and concerns.

This was especially difficult for my wife because mothers never stop worrying in the best of times.

The journey home from Afghanistan took several days, yet thanks to social media, he kept us informed of his progress. The first stop was Kyrgyzstan, where they had a day and a half layover.

He was still in a far off ’stan, but no longer in a war zone. Thanks to Facebook updates we learned that the next stop was Germany, then after landing in Maine, he texted that he was finally back in the United States.

We were told to arrive at Camp Pendleton for the homecoming at 8 p.m. The Marines would land at March Air Reserve Base and be bused to the parade ground where we would meet. The buses had to first stop at the armory so they could all turn in their weapons.

At 8 p.m. that evening, everything was going according to plan, Adam’s friends and family were all arriving on the base and he texted that they had just driven through the gates.

As expected, the scene at the parade ground was the exact opposite of melancholy and trepidation we experienced months ago when he first deployed. Joyful anticipation was the prevailing mood.

Smiles, laughter, nervous banter and lots of children turned the wait into a celebration.

The separation from their families took varying tolls on the returning Marines. One of the most touching sights was a mother holding a 4-month-old baby who had yet to meet her father.

On the other hand, we spoke with a wife who said all the right things to us, but as soon as the Marines returned home that night she informed her husband she was divorcing him. The casualties of war are not all on the battlefield.

The arrival time came and went, and calls to the Marines on the bus revealed that the count of weapons turned in to the armory did not match the master list. It took more than two hours and three separate tries, including pulling all the weapons back out and starting over from scratch, before the count matched and the buses finally were allowed to proceed to the parade ground and the homecoming reunion we had all been anticipating.

The six white buses finally drove onto the parade ground. They parked in a line, bumper to bumper, and doors facing away from the waiting crowd. The Marines disembarked and assembled in formation, hidden from us by the buses.

When they were empty, the buses drove off, leaving the returning Marines 100 feet away from their friends and family.

There was a slight pause and then in a scene that resembled the start of a battle from “Braveheart,” the two sides advanced on each other and came together in the middle. There were no clubs and swords, though; these warriors were met with tears, hugs and kisses.

The returning Marines had 96 hours of leave coming, but school and work the next day loomed for most of the others. The parade ground quickly emptied; home and private reunions beckoned.

Adam had not eaten since landing in Maine, so at 2 a.m. we ended our day with the meal he had been anticipating the entire time he was in Afghanistan.

A San Diego restaurant, Slater’s 50/50, makes a half-ground-beef and half-ground-bacon hamburger topped with a fried egg. Add a beer and surround it all with friends, family and Marine buddies — it was an All-American end to a much-anticipated day.

Kevin Buck is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” runs Tuesdays and rotates among several SCV Democrats.

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