FAR FROM HOME
Editor’s Note: The series “Far From Home” is written by local resident Doug LaFoille. It began in 2011, when his daughter, Danielle LaFoille was deployed to Afghanistan. He now details the Army career of his son, Jeremy, who is also stationed in Afghanistan.
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The busses pull up and the orders are given – load up! The next stop is the staging point where the Casing of the Colors takes place; there’s a short talk from the commanding officer and then a prayer from the Chaplain. After a quick ride to the gym, we hurry up and wait again as the company is marched in and released to spend time with family one last time. The best way to describe this scene is controlled chaos – everyone from grandparents, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, wives, husbands and children. Other military personnel also are present, including friends, officers, well wishers, and Fort Hood newspaper writers.
We gather with Jeremy and surround him to make sure he knows we are there for him. Lexi, 4, and Mackenzie, 5 – Jeremy’s two girls – run and spend time with their friends. Jeremy’s snap ring on his sling for his M4 breaks while adjusting his sling. Amanda and I take off and head over to supply to grab another sling not knowing when he will have an opportunity to get one. This was definitely not in my plan for the morning, nor Amanda’s. But it gives us a few minutes to talk and reassure each other. Upon returning to the staging point, the sling is attached and we can see the command staff gathering together. Without anyone saying anything, we know the time is drawing near for them to leave.
A number of soldiers sit quietly on the bleachers, some by themselves. I realize that they have no family there and wonder if it is by choice or some other reason. I hope they’ll be OK. Jeremy is a few feet away, on one knee talking to Lexi. I catch a glimpse of her face and realize she is broke down. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but I know he’s reassuring her that he will be home soon and she has to be a good girl for mommy. He gathers her up and he puts his face to hers and tells her that he loves her. She forces a smile on her tiny face and we gather for some last minute pictures. Everyone tries to remain strong, but I think if all the fear from every person in the huge building were to escape, it would collapse. I notice a number of older veterans standing off to the side. I see in their faces that, if they could, they would change shoes with any one of the young soldiers getting ready to depart.
The first sergeant takes his position at center court and the command to fall in is given. This is it, the time has come. The time all the families have been dreading and fearing is now part of reality. Each soldier gives one last hug and smile and heads to his perspective position. I hope and pray I can keep my composure and maintain my military bearing for the next five or ten minutes until the bus pulls away. Others have the same hope – some make it, and some don’t.
A great fear comes over me when I realize I didn’t give him a hug before he went to formation. I find myself standing near the door as they depart and, knowing full well it is completely against military protocol, I take Jeremy out of formation as he walks by for one last hug. Later, I realize Jacob was also not able to give Jeremy one last hug.
A young child, about six years old, runs to her dad in tears and I hear her say, “No, no, don’t go.” As they exit the building in single file, the group is shadowed by all the families. I look at the faces of these young soldiers and wonder why they are here. I pray that I’ll see them upon their return. As they step onto the bus I watch them take their seats. We see Jeremy, he’s near a window; he’s sitting with one of his battle buddies.
Amanda stands just outside the window holding Lexi in one arm and Mackenzie’s hand with the other. I hear what I think is the same little girl saying, “No, no, don’t go”. Drawing on every bit of strength I have not to break down, I realize it’s Lexi this time.
The young soldiers attempt to keep their military bearing, but from behind glasses and hats pulled down over their faces, I see anguish and the heartache. Realizing the bus engines are not running, for a brief second I think something has happened and maybe they have changed their mind. The thought is immediately silenced when the first bus in line starts its engine, as do the remaining busses. I want him to see me one more time amidst the crowd and when he does smile at me, I hold my hand up, look him in the eye and imagine what it’ll be like when the bus is going the other way and he’s coming home.
The busses turn the corner and fade out of sight. The families reassemble, some in shock, some confused, some unsure – some are all of the above. Staying together to continue our support, we return to Jeremy’s house to share a meal. As I walk through the front door, I see his tennis shoes on the floor and immediately want him home. Trying to bring some sense of normality back, we make small talk, share a meal into the evening and then start to wonder when we’re going to hear from him.
Over the next 24 hours, he will board numerous planes, busses, trucks and other forms of transportation until he reaches FOB (Forward Observation Base) Arien. To be continued...