Welcome Home Todd!

When my husband joined the National Guard back in ’04 it was right after the horrors of 9/11. He was 34 and went through Basic Training and then AIT. He was home for about a month when he received the call he was being sent to Iraq.

We knew he would be sent right over. He picked a MOS (Combat Engineer) that guaranteed that, plus it was what he wanted to do. So there he went, off to Camp Caldwell. There he spent time at Anaconda, Stryker, and more that I don’t know about. He was a gunner and operated the .50 Cal. When I would express concern that he was vulnerable on the top of the vehicles with the giant gun, he said,”Love, don’t worry. No one fucks with the .50 Cal.” He explained that people would scramble from the soldiers when they would see them coming down the road.

Yeah, as if it was just that safe or that easy, right? Well, after spending his time in a group of guys that basically patched up a battalion from Tennessee that needed some Combat Engineers. There he and the few other Texas Guardsmen were looked at like the red-headed bastard step children that show up at a family reunion. All of the promotion slots were given to the Tennesee guys and they supported each other. This is not unusual. When Todd returned home, he went back to Texas and since it was just him returning, there was no ticker tape parade or any sort of big deal made. It was business as usual in Austin. No one on the airplane asked what he was up to or welcomed him home. I make it a point when I am on a plane to inquire on soldiers with combat patches as to if they are coming or going. Usually my son and I will buy them a drink or a snack if they need one.

The only welcome home was the one of his son and I. That was it. Nothing. Months later, he saw in the National Guard magazine, pictures of the Tennessee guys getting their fancy welcome home parade. How nice for them.

Liam and I tried to make it fun, tried to make it a big welcome for him. Two people and a senior citizen dog can only do so much. I know he appreciated it, but I know how really disappointed he was.

When Todd deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, his return home was very exciting, but not in the way any soldier wants it to be. He came home via Medivac. They did not think he would survive the flight from Bagrum Airforce Base in Afghanistan, to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany. To the delight of my son and I, he made it all the way home to Texas. He did not get a parade at that time, either.

It wasn’t until April 19, 2012 that he received the true heroes welcome he really deserved. Thanks to a non-profit group called WarriorBeachRetreat.org, he was truly welcomed. Warrior Beach Retreat is a non-profit started by Linda and Phillip Cope, of Panama City Beach, Florida. They started this group after their son Josh was severely injured in Iraq. They realized how couples really need a source of recreation and fun to help balance with all of the seriousness in life after injuries and PTSD.

On Thursday, April 19, Todd received so many thanks I swear my face was hurting from smiling. There were so many people standing on the main streets and the bridge that went over the water to connect to the other side of the city. It was the prettiest thing I have ever seen. The most touching scene for me was to see the young Navy (forgive me for not remembering what the newbies are called in the Navy) cadets were saluting all along the fence perimeter at the Navy Training Academy. I cried because they saluted us so well as if we were important officers or something. I also looked at them like potential children of mine as they were all around 18 years-old and I am 41. I prayed for their safety when they ever had to face deployment. I never want any of them to end up like my husband.

So many flags, it was the prettiest sight to see.

Here is the prettiest thing ever! Make sure you zoom in so you can see the flags and the townspeople holding them.  After we drove our wonderful red shiny brand spanking new Toyota Camry in the motorcade and saw everyone out with their flags, we went to the First Baptist Church where we got to have dinner and see a wonderful program recognizing our heroes. As soon as the video is available of it, I will post links. It had me crying my eyes out again. It is soo nice to see my husband’s sacrifice being appreciated. So many Viet Nam Veterans stood outside holding flags in formation as we walked by. Todd refused to use a wheel chair and there was a ton of walking. He couldn’t use his leg brace because he was wearing his dress shoes. I admire him so much, even if he is stubborn and causes himself more pain. He walked all the way down to the front row of the auditorium.

After the program, a man came up to me thanking me for my service (which made me cry yet again) and told me how Todd inspired him as he could see the grit and determination held in his firm jaw.  He inspired me as well. He walked so much that his leg was so swollen from the day before. It did not bother him. He kept on. He walked because he could. Everyone smiled at him. After the program was over, we were put in the foyer to sit and meet and greet the people that came for the program. I am so glad Linda gave us our own box of tissues as it was very emotional watching Todd process the welcome he very much needed. It was cathartic for both of us. I have always felt badly that he never had the parade or anything the media shows many soldiers receiving. I can proudly say he was welcomed home.

The Copes have done tremendously with their group and it was truly a blessing for us. I have not seen my husband smile in so long. He was actually giggling and he told me he had fun while playing on the beach in a Beach Scoot. This was graciously provided for us by the owners of the company. The Scoot looks like a Gator and a Rascal had a baby with really fat tires so it can maneuver on the sand. Fabulous!

Here is a picture of Todd sitting on the Beach Scoot. Note the smile. He was kind of tired, but still happy in this shot. 

That killer smile – note the appearance of dimples. Indicators of a good time.

That beach was so nice I never wanted to leave. Here we are on the far right.

Here are some other couples with us on the beach. As you can see, they were a blast and the beach at St. Andrew’s State Park in Panama City was gorgeous. Some of the softest sand I have ever felt and the water was clear, unlike the murky water I have seen in the Atlantic on the other side of Florida.

We were flown to the event thanks to www.aircompassionforveterans.org. That was really nice. We never have been the recipients of such huge amounts of kindness like this, it was absolutely mindblowing.
We got to stay at the Wyndham Bay Point resort, which was gorgeous.
Here is their web link so you can see better quality pictures of the place as mine don’t do it justice.

We can’t thank the Spa Director enough. The wives of the soldiers got to go to the Spa at the Wyndham or go Deep Sea Fishing. Of course I opted for the Spa. Good decision, hands down. I got a lovely deep tissue massage and custom facial. My skin looked amazing. I didn’t even want to wear face powder on it for the rest of the trip, they made it look so good. They made us feel so pampered and spoiled, much like movie stars or royalty or something. I honestly did not want to leave. I joked to my husband,”Is there a button we can push so our son can be sent here and our dog, too?”

I can’t thank The Copes enough and I will write again about some of the other activities. It is time for bed as I have hit the ground running since coming home on Monday. It has been doctors appointments as usual. Today was a 4 hour marathon at the VA. Goodnight, all. More to come.

With a big smile in my heart and on my face, I close this one.

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