Thanksgiving came about a month early for a couple of hundred north Alabama families this year, mine included.
We weren’t gathered around dinner tables waiting for turkey and dressing. We gathered in the parking lot at Huntsville International Airport, thankful our loved ones made it home safely from their 10-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Welcome signs, American flags and yellow ribbons were in abundance as we reunited Sunday with our family members serving with the Army National Guard’s 115th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, which arrived after their weeklong demobilization at Fort Bliss in Texas.
I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between this day and one nearly a year ago, when my daughter Sarah and I journeyed with my son, Joshua, before dawn to the armory in Florence on the day he deployed.
It was a frosty, chilly morning when those buses rolled out of Florence on Oct. 30, 2011. It was a pleasant, sunny afternoon when many of those soldiers returned home.
The hours before my son deployed last year were among the hardest of my life. Tears flowed as husbands said goodbye to wives, parents said goodbye to children and brothers said goodbye to sisters. It was a gut-wrenching experience I will never forget.
There were a few tears Sunday, but they were tears of joy. There were hugs. There was laughter on a day of celebration that did not end with a reunion at the airport.
Gone are the days of checking Facebook hoping for a post that let me know my son is safe. Many of us are aware of the risks when our loved ones go off to war. I know many parents and spouses try not to watch or read the news when their loved ones are serving in a war zone.
As a newspaper copy editor, that has not been an option for me. Trust me, my heart skipped a beat with every story of a U.S. casualty or any news of unrest in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran that could have an impact on my son’s safety, along with other soldiers serving their country.
I am thankful for the new normal. My children are now both back under the same roof. Gone are the frequent trips to the post office, carrying care packages for my son half a world away. I am appreciative of friends and family members who did the same, letting him know they were thinking about him.
I am proud to have a son brave enough to serve his country during wartime, but I am thankful that his mission in Afghanistan is complete.
The more than 60,000 U.S. troops still serving in Afghanistan, including other members of the 115th who are in the process of coming home, are still in my thoughts and prayers.
It’s my hope they’ll experience a homecoming like the one we experienced on Sunday, one of thanksgiving and celebration.
Scott Turner is a copy editor and page designer for The Decatur Daily and the TimesDaily of Florence. He lives in Decatur.
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