Home

We woke at 03:45 to prepare to leave Ft. Dix, NJ -- FINALLY. Though there was a winter storm the night before, we rose out of bed, turned in bed linens, received our DD 214's, and cleaned the barracks, determined to go home.

We ventured outside and everything was covered in several inches of ice, evidence we may not make it home. As we made our way to the chow hall, about two blocks away, all of us walked like penguins, trying to stay upright, not slipping and causing ourselves injury, a sure fire way to keep from going home. Several actually fell and one or two hurt themselves only to ignore the physical pain in order to go home and cure their emotional pains.

After breakfast chow, we assembled in the barracks, waiting for the charter buses to show. They were supposed to arrive in time for our departure at 08:00, but par for the course, they were late enough for us to start conversing, in a joking manner, about the possibility not leaving for home. Around 08:10 or so six charter buses showed up and we began shoving our luggage and gear into the compartments on the bottom, barely allowing the driver the courtesy of stopping to park. Alpha company was on their bus first, heckling the rest of the battalion for being so slow to board and get on the road.

On our way in the American made buses, marked by the absence of curtains over the windows and plenty of legroom in the seats, not even a celebratory cheer was made. Everybody settled in for the six hour trip home, listening to music or trying to watch in-ride movie, Tombstone.

Our first taste of civilian life came as we stopped at the Maryland House rest stop on interstate 95 South, which allowed for the bus driver's mandatory rest. Inside we were all overcome by the prices of the goods available. Many bought Starbucks coffee at gold prices, and ate some late breakfast. The only thing I wanted was to but a hard copy of a newspaper. Naturally I selected the Washington Post.

Our break was over after about 45 minutes, where we assembled back on the buses. Everybody returned to their iPods and books, while I read the Washington Post, every single bit of it. Some napped and others watched a second movie on the bus DVD player. Still little, if any, excitement was evident on our bus.

We made our way around the nation's capital on interstate 95/495. We crossed the Wilson Bridge, a project which made significant progress while in our absence. Once on the Virginia side of the Potomac River the feeling of really going home began when all six buses were pulled over onto the right hand shoulder by the Virginia state police.

Our stopping caused a ruckus on the bus, waking any sleepers and directing our attention outside. We were surrounded by six Virginia state trooper sedans. It was the heart of the lunch hour, half past noon, a time when the beltway needs to be open. Once all six of the buses were pulled over, the Virginia state police pulled out, blocking all traffic on the beltway. All six of our buses began to roll, pulling out into the left lane of 495.

Our first thought was one of the four buses in front of us had broken down or violated the law in some way to merit being pulled over. Little did we know this was a planned event where we were scheduled to get an escort home, similar to presidential motorcade escorts I've seen while living in Washington.

We were escorted the whole way home. Virginia state police surrounded our six buses on the interstate. We had the left two lanes to ourselves and the state police would speed up and slow down to keep any cars from breaking into the convoy of buses. All of us were entertained by the attempts to shoo cars away. I am sure there are some people who suffered near heart attacks after having a state trooper accelerate upon their car, lights flashing, and sirens blaring.

Inside the bus, cell phones began to ring with increasing regularity. All of the husbands, wives and children were calling their soldier to find out how much longer it would be before we would arrive. With each call we gave a new location report. Apparently at the reception center, the hangar in Sandston, VA, the position updates were broadcast on a megaphone, allowing the crowd assembled to become anxious.

We made it to Sandston, the small town home to our unit. As we pulled into town, the police blocked everything off, allowing us to blow through the stoplights and signs. As we made our left turn onto the final road home, there were townspeople on the side walk waving small American flags and jumping up and down. There were fellow soldiers who had stopped at the local gas station to fill up, that stopped what they were doing, came to attention, and saluted as the buses passed.

Fervor grew on the buses. We passed the local elementary school, which had its students out on the sidewalk with banners and flags, cheering and screaming as the buses passed. Just after the school we stopped on the side of the road, again raising our interest as to what was the hold up. It turns out we were early for our 14:30 scheduled arrival. We waited about five or ten minutes and were on our way around the corner to the hangar.

As the airfield came into sight, over a mile away, we caught our first glimpse of how many cars were parked on the flight line, where we normally park the helicopters. Almost in complete unison everybody exclaimed "Holy Crap!" We were not expecting the numbers we saw. There must have been hundreds of cars on the flight line. It looked like an NFL parking lot, with the sun randomly glimmering off the windshields.

We pulled into the flight line where they had marshaled all of the friends and family into the hangar area with the doors open so they could see the six buses arrive. Hundreds of families and friends were present, waving flags, cheering, flapping banners, and crying. We parked and waited on the buses with our family and friends only meters away. We just wanted to get off the bus and meet up with them. Many of us did not want to sit through Governor Kaine's monologue, we just wanted to go home.

We got off the bus and made our way into the hangar single file, all 250 of us. Once inside it was what I imagine it is like attending either the DNC or RNC conventions. All of the people were now inside the hangar. There were red, white, and blue banners everywhere. We quickly made our way, single file through the middle of the crowd to our positions in the formation, waving, smiling, shaking hands, and crying the whole way. Here we endured several words from several people, waiting for the special word to come from the battalion commander's mouth, "Dismissed"

Finally it was over and the mad search was on. Each one of us was engulfed in a sea of people looking for our respective friends and family. People had that glare I their eyes which expressed a determination which said "You're not it, get out of my way." It took me a while to find my family, of which my brother was the first I found. We hugged for a long time. He wanted to let go, but I wouldn't let him. Then we went on the search for my parents. I found my father, 6'3" with his gray hair sticking out of the crowd, which lead me to finding my 5'2" mother at his side. I ran and picked up my mother with a huge hug. She did a great job of keeping it together. It was my father that lost it a bit, with wet streaks on his coat from the subtle tears he shed when we hugged. I've only seen this once before when his mother passed away.

We were a family again, leaving our military families this time, for the lives we left 16 months ago. My last comments to some of the fellow soldiers of the 224th included a statement that was of mutual understanding "I hope I don't have to see you for a few while!"

By Bert Stover |  February 23, 2007; 7:41 AM ET  | Category:  Demobilization
Previous: Just Let Us Out |

Comments

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It was sure good to see you all at the hanger last Thursday! I hope you are having fun and not having any more "groundhog days." Best wishes to all the 2-224th. Keep safe! And thanks for your service.

Posted by: Pilots Dad | February 23, 2007 05:53 PM

Thank you for your service and may God continue to bless you.

Posted by: sheila johnson | February 24, 2007 03:14 AM

It was a day I will never forget. It was a feeling I will never forget. When you guys pulled in on the ramp, tears ran down my face. Finally, you were safe and you were all home. Thank you Lord. My prayers were answered. Welcome home and "Thank You"

Posted by: barbi | February 24, 2007 08:37 AM

WOW!! I remember when our local National Guard Unit came home in 2004, it was the same thing you described....the entire community turned out and the guys were hanging out of the bus windows laughing, crying, shaking hands....all the local high school bands joined together for patriotic music! It was awesome!! I look at the pictures every now and then, just to remember the emotions of that day!! A far cry from when my husband came home from Vietnam (alone), ran into the Airport restroom and took off his uniform so no one would know he was Military!! I know it has been a long time to see family, but you probably needed the "time" to calm down more than you realize....our Marine thought it was nonsense too until he realized how he felt when he was home!! Thank you again for your commitment to your Country....we will keep you in our prayers!!

Posted by: Mechanic's Mom | February 24, 2007 05:12 PM

I thank God for Bert Stover's safe return from Iraq. He has been in my prayers for the past year and a half. His Washington Post blogs were a great help in understanding what they were doing and how they really felt. He is a wonderful, brave man and I am honored to have met him before he left. His Mom and Dad went through a very hard 16 months while he was away from them. Thanks, Bert, for all you did. God Bless You.

Posted by: Beverly Saunders | February 25, 2007 09:38 AM

I am proud that my home state was able to host you and your unit for a little while. Thank you for your service! Welcome home and congratulations!

Posted by: Jersey FF/Medic | February 25, 2007 06:34 PM

Thank you and welcome home!

Posted by: 2266 | February 25, 2007 09:34 PM

Bert,

God Bless and welcome home!!

Posted by: Bill Wallace | February 26, 2007 12:56 PM

Welcome home and thank you for your service!

Posted by: Linda | February 26, 2007 02:28 PM

Bert,

Welcome home and thank you and your fellow soldiers. I have enjoyed following your blog and I sent todays to many friends with a note "don't read unless you are ready for a happy cry." You are a wonderful writer and I hope you pursue this talent in your future.

Posted by: barbara wamsley | February 26, 2007 06:25 PM

Thank You and all our military for your service. Welcome Home!! May God continue to keep you safe.

Posted by: Bill j | February 27, 2007 06:41 AM

welcome home--so glad that you and your unit received the heroes'welcome you deserved.
Reading your blog has been a pleasure.

Nora Krick

Posted by: Nora Krick | February 27, 2007 11:44 AM

Bert:

Welcome home and thank you for your sevice! I have been following your blog since you started writing and it has been of tremndous help to me as my own son, a Marine with the 3/6 has just finished his first month in Iraq.

May God bless you and keep all those serving out of harm's way!

Posted by: Mary | February 27, 2007 02:45 PM

What a heart-rendering tale of the journey home. We support the warriors, but not the war. Hopefully, many more heroic patriots will come home safely and NOT HAVE TO GO BACK!
Fond regards~

Posted by: Carol | February 27, 2007 04:15 PM

Welcome HOME Bert. Ya done good. Thank you for your service, and your sacrifice.

Cheers,
John Hermann

Posted by: John Hermann | February 27, 2007 08:57 PM

And 'thank you' to Sandston, VA.

Posted by: A. Callahan | February 28, 2007 09:38 AM

We've flown with the 2/224th on exercise in Fort Picket, Blacksone VA. They are a truly professional and energetic unit.

On behalf of the Officers, NCOs and soldiers of the Princess Louise Fusilers, Welcome home.

MG Boudreau
LCol
Commanding Officer
The Princess Louise Fusilisers
Halifax, NS, Canada

Posted by: LCol Marcel Boudreau | February 28, 2007 10:32 AM

God bless and thank you.

Posted by: David T | March 1, 2007 12:19 PM

Bert...Welcome home. Thank you for your courage, strength, and devotion to our country. I belong to Soldiers' Angels and write to many troops. I know from first hand accounts how horrific things have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm so very happy you made it home safely. God bless you and your family. Keep writing...it's what keeps me going through tough times. God bless our troops.

Posted by: Linda Cano | March 1, 2007 08:33 PM

Welcome Home! I'm glad you made it back safe and sound. It's hard not to remember that so many can't say that... I hope you've kept your blogs, and the responses from the many people who have been keeping track of you. All together, you've got the makings of a pretty darn good book. A little editing here, a few more photos there, and a bit more information about what went on during your tour, and there you are! I for one would buy it in a heart beat! If someone is going to make money out of whole situation, I'd rather it be the people who actually fought rather than Haiburton or who knows who... Best of luck!

Posted by: James | March 5, 2007 01:31 PM

Hey Chief,
I feel like the lame animal cut from the herd due to my broken arm and being left back at FT Dix, NJ. After everything we went through in IRAQ I really hate being kept on medical hold on not returning with our 2/224th Avn Bn.
That being said, I want to thank you for allowing me to participate by reading your last entry about "Our Homecoming". My wife Lynn and I really felt cheated we missed such a monumental occasion, but through your colorful commentary and emotional description I now get a sense of what we missed and of actually being there in spirit anyway. I really enjoyed the articles. I hope to heal fast and be flying with ya'll again real soon.

Posted by: SGT Rick Rodgers, B co 2/224th Crew Chief | March 5, 2007 06:03 PM

Welcome Home and THANKS for your courage.
Your Canadian Admirer--happy Hap

Posted by: Hap Stokes | March 8, 2007 04:31 PM



My name is Christy I have a husband that is currently serving in Iraq with 1st Calvary Division. He is a NCO in the United States Army. This is my story:


In January of 2007 I received a phone call that my mother in-law was in the hospital. She was just going in to have Gall Bladder surgery. I notified my husband it was a simple easy surgery. My mother in-law came out of the surgery ok sick but ok. Two days later I receive another phone call saying she is bleeding out and needs emergency surgery. So I then sent another message to my husband letting him know. Naturally he was worried. So she came out ok and ended up having her spleen removed. I notified my husband once again that she was ok. One day later I received another call from the hospital that his mom was dyeing and had to have another surgery to release pressure
in her stomach. There was so much swelling that her heart, lungs was failing. So she ended up on life support. I sent my first Red Cross message for my husband to return home. Well he came home and mom got a little better, but then crashed again. We had so much to take care of for her. Her finances, medical bills, insurance, disability, social security and legal affairs were all needing to be taken care of. With only a short leave granted, and no will, or power of attorney there was little he could get accomplished. The hospital did give him all medical say so, because he was the only one his mom had and she had told her case worker that she wanted him to, in case something happened to her. When his leave was up he left to go back to Iraq without having time to take care of everything and with dealing with his mother telling him, "please don't leave me son". Once I was back home, and he was on his way back to Iraq the phone calls started coming in with her health going up and down, as well as the hospital needing him there to make decisions for her.. So I had to email him and do what I could to get him on the phone with the hospital. Then with the hospitals guidance, we sent another Red Cross message to get him home for his mom. The message was sent with all the proper info from Doctors and Administration. I could not make these decisions, or handle any of her affairs. No one would even talk to me about them. The Army then refused to send him home, just because he had been home prior to this for the same reason. As we all know it takes time to get things in order and done. So I went to his chain of command here in the states. They have been so helpful. They verified that all the information was true, and he really needed to be sent back to take care of his mother's affairs, and to be with her. All I hear from the rear command is he will be leaving the next day, or soon they will have him on a flight. After three weeks and matters getting worse, he is still not home. From over in Iraq he is not being told nothing, and later finding out that it has been denied three times. I can not understand why his battalion will not release him to come back to take care of his mother. My husband is not the only solider this is happening to. I am hearing more and more of this kind of thing happening in this unit, I just wonder if it is an Army wide dilemma. The Army's Saying is, "Soldiers and Family Always," Where's that coming into play here. There's nobody that can make decisions on his mothers behalf but him. The Army is playing politics with me, and giving us the run around. They tell you what you want to hear. The command here at Division level has been more than helpful but why does the middle guy seem to have a problem with taking care of one of his soldiers and family, like he told us before my husband was sent over there. Well the battalion commander is mad at me because I over stepped him, and now my husband and his mom has to pay for it. Why does the Army let him get away with it? They still today are refusing to send him home and delaying everything that is being sent from Division. I have the 1st Cav Division here fighting to have him home and over in Iraq a Battalion Commander that is refusing to let him come home because I over stepped him, to take care of my family. If the shoe was on the other foot, I bet things would be different. Can somebody put a stop to the way our soldiers and when I say that I am meaning husbands, wives, sons, and daughters are being treated over seas by commands that say one thing but do another? This needs to end here and now! We need to wake up and realize that they are human and if they are worried about home and not the job at hand over there in Iraq then somebody is going to get hurt or killed because someone was not in the right state of mind. Then they will see that our soldiers are not robots. It should not take that for them to see they are human too. We all want them home, we know there is a war at hand and they are needed there, but we need them home too for family issues as well. PLEASE STOP AND LET THE PUBLIC KNOW HOW THEY ARE REALLY BEING TREATED SO OUR FUTURE SOLIDERS DO NOT GET THE SAME TREATMEANT Thank You,
christy_freddie2003@yahoo.com

Posted by: christy | March 11, 2007 07:30 PM

Dear Christy,
I am very sorry to hear about you and your husband's plight. You should consider sending your e-mail message to all of the major news organizations including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, NPR, FOX, Associated press, and others. What you describe is an outrage that not only puts your husband's life at risk but all those who serve with him as well. When he's on duty he needs to have just one thing on his mind and that's the mission he is on, everything else is a distraction. I can't imagine the stress he is being put under. Best of luck to all of you...

Posted by: James | March 13, 2007 10:14 AM

God Bless You and Welcome Home

As I read this the tears ran down my face as I recall my own personal experience of the heartache I felt as I watched my son march off to go to Iraq in January 2005 from Fort Stewart, GA. His last words to me were I love you most of all and please don't let me see you cry. Somehow I managed to honor that wish. Once he was out of visual range my life came to a halt. I only saw a strong brave young man, scared of the unknown, leaving to serve and protect. My heart broke for him but also for his fellow soldiers whose families were unable to be there. I hugged alot of men and told them I could be their Mom for this moment, standing tall and proud.

On January 6, 2007 I drove 6 hours and sat in freezing weather for 5 hours awaiting his return. Not this bus, not this bus, I heard over and over. At last we were told he was coming and I stopped breathing... 300 soldiers marched across a field, strong and proud, exhausted, excited and searching only with their eyes for their loved ones.

I saw him and could not remove my eyes from his face.. my only child had returned home a changed man.. I thought my heart would explode... I remember hearing - families go greet your soldiers - and I, among many ran toward my soldier with my heart aching and dancing.

There is no feeling in the world like holding your loved one. Always knowing that love is the most powerful feeling of all.

I love each and every man and woman who serve our country and pray every day for their safe return. Know I also pray for each of your families to find peace.

Jackie Burns - Tallahassee FL (jackieburns@comcast.net)
Proud Mother of a Army Soldier who served his Country in Iraq. God Bless

Posted by: Jackie Burns - Tallahassee FL | March 15, 2007 08:52 AM

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