COLUMBUS — Nine-year-old Bryn Marshall and her 6-year-old sister Aria sported matching “Daddy is My Hero” T-shirts to welcome their father, Capt. David Marshall, home from Afghanistan Sunday morning.
Marshall can’t wait to be a full-time father again to the girls and sons Wyatt, 7, and Levi, 3. “I’ve missed so much,” he said.
Rickenbacker International Airport hummed with excitement as tearful family members greeted 235 Ohio Army National Guard soldiers from all over the state, including many from Southwest Ohio.
They’re all members of the 3,600-strong 37th Infantry Brigade Team, which lost three soldiers in a suicide attack in April. The war in Afghanistan, known as Operation Enduring Freedom, has claimed the lives of 2,106 soldiers worldwide; another 17.519 have been wounded. That was very much on the mind of Betsy Heximer as she hugged her son, Sgt. Rard Hamber of Springfield. “We feel so blessed and thankful that he’s finally home safe,” she said. “I can’t imagine what the families are going through who lost their loved ones.”
Fifty-five of the soldiers who came home Sunday — including Marshall, Hamber, Patrick Wright of Beavercreek and Seth Parker of Trotwood — hail from the Columbus-based Task Force 1-134 Field Artillery Regiment. Over the coming year, in an ongoing series, “Home from War,” The Dayton Daily News will feature the stories of some of the local soldiers from the 600-member battalion as they readjust to civilian life.
The road ahead could be difficult, they all know, but on Sunday morning they felt nothing but the joy of homecoming. Pamela Brown Parker couldn’t believe she was about to be reunited with her son Seth after a year’s deployment. “I can’t wait to see his beautiful face,” she said. “I’m feeling a little shiver. I feel like I want to cry, and that is not me!”
Brown Parker scolded herself, “Get a grip!” but couldn’t keep the tears from flowing when she embraced her son. For his part, Parker couldn’t wait to go home, relax, and not do much of anything. One of his buddies expressed the prevailing sentiment when he vowed “to do what I want, when I want, and have no plans whatsoever!”
The fathers in the group are eager to step back into their children’s lives. Patrick Wright will be looking for a job soon, but on Sunday, he reported, “Today we are taking it minute by minute. We had a five-star meal of pizza and beer, one of my favorites. That was followed by a bit of wrestling with my sons, a few minutes playing the Wii, then a bike ride, and some ball.”
David Marshall, too, hopes to make up for lost time: “I’ve missed the birthdays of all four of my kids. They’ve changed so much. My youngest wasn’t talking when I left. Now he’s chatting up a storm.”
He’s eager to provide backup for his wife Grace, who has been a single mom, essentially, for the past year. “And I’m eager for him to take over,” said Grace, beaming.
Marshall kept up with his family through phone calls and Skype, even if it meant getting up in the middle of the night. Still, Grace predicted, “It will be a transition for the kids to accept him as an authority figure again.”
Marshall is thankful for his job as an intelligence analyst at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “It’s rough for a lot of these guys who don’t have a job yet,” he said.
Some soldiers, like Hamber and Parker, hope to continue their education. Hamber earned a degree in criminal justice from Sinclair Community College and worked as a highway patrolman and police officer, but now he’s studying through an online univerity to become a nursing home administrator.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” said his girlfriend, Debbie Lonsway of Springfield. She said the long separation has been stressful. “If he’s having a bad day, I’m having a bad day,” she said. “This has been the longest year ever. But this has made us closer than ever.”
Now that Hamber is home, Lonsway hopes their relationship will keep getting stronger. “I hope he’ll be able to talk about his feelings instead of keeping them bottled up.”
Concurred his mother, “I hope he’ll be able to reach out, not just to us but to others. That can be the toughest thing for him.”
Hamber’s father, Wendell Heximer, is troubled that the war in Atghanistan is getting so little attention in the media and the presidential campaign. “It’s the forgotten war,” he said. “We heard about the war in Iraq every day. But we hear very little about Afghanistan.”
That bothers him more than it does his son. “Right now, they’re all just glad to be home,” Heximer said. “But they are all going to need our continuing love and support.”