I wrote this yesterday (Sunday, April 29), but had to wait to publish it until after Mike surprised his parents. They knew he'd be home soon, but not this soon.
Mike has been a friend of mine for 6 or 7 years and enlisted in the National Guard a couple years ago. I reached out to his girlfriend, Lacey, early on in the deployment and we ended up talking quite a bit over the last year. I was a pretty tough cookie during my first deployment with Trevor, but I must say I've been particularly impressed with Lacey's no whining, positive, "we can do this" attitude. After a long year, today was Mike and Lacey's lucky day-he came home! I guess it was my lucky day, too since I got to be there to witness it all. Oh, and because I got pulled over afterwards but got away with a warning. Just a couple weeks ago, Lacey told me how lucky I am I get to experience so many homecomings. At the time I just thought "yeah, so lucky a big chunk of my friends gets sent to the Middle East for a year all at the same time." But now that the homecomings are finally happening, I can concede and admit that Lacey was absolutely right.
Now many of you want to see the magical homecoming moment photos, but first let me welcome you into the world of some pretty fierce anticipation. Before I even got to St. Peter, Lacey told me Mike had landed in MN. I sent him a text that said, "Welcome to MN! I might throw up with excitement for you two!!!" His response was simply, "God damn, it feels good to be back :)" As for the rest of the day's events, here's the play by play in photos:
St. Peter has always impressed me with their military support. The town was covered in flags.
I met Lacey at the armory about an hour before Mike actually got there. It's a long day no matter what, so you might as well get there and try to get your head in the game. That's how I see it anyway!
Seeing all the signs was awesome and made it feel a little more like reality.
If all the signs didn't make it feel real, the Patriot Guard sure did.
Starting to get things ready, but still close to 40 minutes to go.
More families started arriving, anxious kids with homemade signs. You could feel all the emotions!
The crowd continued growing as each minute passed.
Dogs came to welcome their soldiers, too!
This picture makes me laugh. Moments earlier Lacey and I both had tear-filled eyes. I told her we needed to get it together and take a picture before the real waterworks started.
In 2008 with Trevor and today with Mike, the buses of soldiers were escorted into town by the Patriot Guard, the fire department and local law enforcement. Obviously you can't hear from a photo, but I took this picture right after hearing the first fire truck horn. Lacey and I looked at each other and knew that meant they were in town. It immediately brought me back to hearing that waiting for Trevor four years ago. It's unbelievably exciting, makes your heart sink. And, like I kept saying to Lacey, "he's not even my boyfriend!"
This photo is me trying to make sure I didn't miss the shot of the bus pulling up. If you're thinking "alright, alright, get to the good pictures already!" just imagine how Lacey felt waiting in real time, and me too! Little did we know, the buses were actually driving them through town to see the community support which is great, but the nerves were really going the more we heard those sirens and the closer the bus got.
There it is!!!
Trying to get closer for that first hug.
This is what it looks like when they get off the bus, near impossible to find your soldier in a sea of camouflage and people with signs.
I said near impossible, not actually impossible.
And almost instantly, that first hug has to end so they can get to one last formation. As hard as it is to let go after you just get them back, it's an important and symbolic part of the deployment. That final formation is what formally and finally dismisses all the returning soldiers from duty. And what a cool moment that is!
A few words before they're truly done. Immediately after hearing "DISMISSED," everyone burst into cheering and clapping.
(If the video isn't working, you can watch it here)
Now the real excitement and mushy stuff can begin.
Dismissed, but not quite done. While everyone was hugging and kissing and crying and smiling, the rear soldiers (those who didn't deploy) were busy unloading bags. The only thing left to do was go get the bags and get outta there!
Trying to locate your bag looks like it's almost as crazy as trying to find your soldier.
These two were practically skipping to Lacey's car. Just can't describe that kind of happy!
And that's a wrap! Lacey & Mike (I know you're reading this), you did it! And, like I told Lacey already, you did it so well! When I asked them both what they were going to do now, they simply said, "start the rest of our life together."
Welcome Home, Mike!