When an Airman Comes Home
Nothing can really prepare you for the kind of powerful emotion that fills you when a service member returns home after a long deployment.
Most people don't get to experience the feeling, and I'm very thankful I did.
Joshua Cook was deployed for 361 days in South Korea.
I found out he was coming home this week, and decided to offer to come to the airport to take pictures of their reunion.
I arrived and met the rest of the Cook family.
And we waited.
361 days previously,
Kyleen Cook at kissed her husband goodbye at the airport, holding difficult tears back.
She listened to her twin sons, Asher and Hayden (now almost 3) ask "Where is daddy?"
That day, Kyleen decided she would BE stronger than ever, and that she would hold it together for a year for her children.
She learned to take two young kids with her everywhere; Stores, doctors, restaurants.
The Long Haul
Over the course of the next year, several People would ask rather personal and intrusive questions like, "doesn't their dad help you?"
After explaining for the third time that her husband was deployed, she stopped being polite and told nosy people to mind their own business.
Kyleen moved in with her mom and dad in Tucson, who helped wrangle the two energetic boys.
She endured two hospital visits, a surgery for each child, and Asher's major speech diagnosis, that will challenge him as he grows.
She changed the battery in the car, got new tires, new brakes. She figured out how to change her brake light and DID IT.
She spent over $300 on 20 themed care packages for Josh over the course of the year. She wrote over 60 "open when" letters to make sure he had at least one a week to open over the span of 52 weeks.
She kept her husband's morale and spirits high, from 10,000 kilometers away.
That's 6300 miles.
Josh was able to come home for a total of 16 days during that year. That is 4% of meals, 4% of bedtimes, and 4% of all the family joy I get on a regular basis.
That's a wopping 4% of the time I get to go home to my own bed in my own house.
Each time he left his boys... again. Each time his wife Kyleen would say goodbye and begin to think again, "I'm strong. I can do this." Each time she told the boys "Daddy is on an airplaine going back to work."
Everytime the boys saw an airplane, they would ask if Daddy was coming back home...
It made things emotionally very difficult.
But the day had finally come for Kyleen to get her husband back, and her boys to get their father back.
Then we saw a pair of boots and camouflage pant legs descend the escalator, and Josh's face split into a smile and he strode forward to hug his boys for the first time in months.
At this, I began to feel a tightness in my chest.
Then came a moment that threatened to collapse my professionalism and poise.
Josh's voice caught, just for a split second and he said...
"Daddy doesn't have to leave again!"
And with that, the crowd surrounding the main concourse Gate B exit, burst into applause.
And with that, off we went to get the luggage.