Homecoming is one of the most exciting events for military families. We plan the outfit, we spend hours on the perfect sign with the most creative little phrase we can come up with (thank you, Pinterest). We clean the entire house and do all of the things we said we would do months ago. And we wait..
The week my husband returned from deployment is still a whirlwind for me. One minute we were talking about how many weeks he had left, and the next he was telling me he landed in the states. Looking back, I can’t even remember that last week because it just flew by. All of the time leading up to those moments had dragged on forever, but now that I had a zillion things to do, time was escaping me.
I had already planned to take time off work when we finally had a date, so I waited patiently as we found out more details. Everything played out over about a week and a half, and he left the Middle East on a Saturday morning. He landed in the U.S. and spent a few days debriefing before he was given his final plane ticket. By that Thursday afternoon, I knew exactly what time he would be home. And WOAH, was that a feeling.
I spend all day Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday cleaning and organizing our home. As many of you know, I had done some major renovations over those last 10+ months, and I still had a few loose ends to tie up. I spent hours going from room to room, making sure everything was perfect for him. I felt so overwhelmed and kept finding new things to fix or organize every time I walked through.
At the time, my best friend was living with me, and she tried to assure me that everything looked great. Eventually I had to just sit back and accept that this wasn’t the important part. That all he would really care about was being surrounded by these four walls again, regardless of the dog hair.
We knew he was landing very late on Sunday night, so by Sunday afternoon I was feeling a little bit panicked. I felt like we were so close to the end, and the distance was finally closing, but something could still go wrong. He texted me by around 4pm to let me know he landed at his second stop, and was waiting to board for the second flight. I knew he had about 2 hours before boarding again, so I made sure to confirm the latest flight details that I had. His second flight was into New Jersey, and we knew he would have only 30 minutes to make the final connection. Knowing that airport, I was terrified he would miss the connection. He was flying with a few other people from his unit, so we atleast knew they would stay together if it came to that.
Our families were planning on meeting at the airport around 10:45, with him landing at 11:15. Being impatient and anxious, I got dressed in my flannel and jeans (I honestly didn’t think too much about the outfit part, it was February) and my best friend and I left the house at 9:00. I just wanted to be in the airport, and know that no matter when he arrived, I would be there. I didn’t care that I would be waiting a couple hours.
We stopped for gas, and he texted me that he had bad news. My heart SUNK. He said they had landed late and were waiting to get off their plane, but things were moving very slow. He didn’t think he would make his connection because the gate would be closing in 10 minutes. I immediately went into panic mode for the fourth time that day and called the airline desk where he was headed. I have never pulled the “military card” for anything in my life, but I quickly explained everything to the gentlemen that answered and begged him to hold the gate. I explained that they were coming home from deployment and they were going to miss the connection otherwise. I had tears in my eyes, and this man must’ve heard it. He put me on hold for a moment, and came back to assure me that they would hold the gate. He promised that they wouldn’t leave without them. And 20 minutes later, my husband texted that he was sitting in his final seat.
Those last couple hours went by so slowly. I looked at the arrivals board roughly a thousand times, making sure that his plane was still on track. Around 11:00, everyone had arrived to welcome him, including some soldiers from reach detachment. I watched his flight number change to “ARRIVED” on the incoming board, and my heart started racing. He texted me to tell me he was walking off the plane.
Those last few minutes are hard to explain, because I truly felt so many emotions at once. I remember standing in front of the double doors, leaning to catch just a glimpse of that uniform. I could hear my heartbeat in my chest and I could feel the onlookers just watching me, wondering what exactly I was waiting for.
And when I saw him round the corner heading towards those double doors, I took a deep, shaky breath. We locked eyes and he couldn’t help but smile as I literally jumped up and down. Every thought and worry just disappeared for a moment. The doors parted, and just like that, the gap between us was finally closed. Our two worlds became one again, and I stood on my tippy toes to hug him a little bit longer.
I’ll never forget that night, or the days that followed. The next morning my husband reunited with our dog, who was still just a puppy when he left. She has changed a lot, but her love for him certainly didn’t. She remembered who he was right away, and I cried for the millionth time in 24 hours. I spent that morning giving him a tour of his own home, which still had many of the comforting familiarity that I knew he missed dearly. Everyone’s homecoming story is different and special in its own way, but we all share the same pride and gratefulness that our service member has come home to us, when so many others do not. I know this won’t be our last homecoming, but I will cherish this first one forever.
What’s your favorite homecoming memory?