“My Daddy Come Home”

Friends help Jackie Dorr decorate the house for her husband's homecoming from his fouth deployment in their five years together.

I woke up thinking – it was finally happening. It was the day I get my family back!  My house buzzed with activity – all my friends and their children – as we did last minute cleaning preparing for my husband’s return.

Then came word, his last connection from Bangor, Maine was delayed. For a moment, it felt like it wasn’t going to happen.

As I did my hair and makeup, I couldn’t help but feel like it was my wedding day, and I was readying to see my groom.   We dressed the girls in their custom made dresses and their ruby red slippers, as Paisley calls them her “special come home Daddy shoes” and loaded up the car.

Paisley wanted to wear lipstick too for her Daddy's homecoming.

While everyone walked downstairs, I collected myself, and laid out the gifts I had gotten him to make up for missing Christmas, our anniversary and Valentines Day.  The whole drive to the compound, Krista calmed my nerves letting me know how amazingly happy she was for our family.

When we got to the compound, the bay was not quite ready but that didn’t matter, we would wait for hours if need be.  Paisley kicked off her shoes and ran around the CSD Bay, getting her little feet so dirty, but it didn’t matter she was excited and this made me happy.

Members of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club are known for their bright red shirts and for showing up for every homecoming not matter the time or number of returning troops.

Then 1600 came, and my phone rang. He had landed and they were getting on the buses heading to the compound.  It seemed unreal! “A bus just pulled up” Krista tells me.

We line up as close as we can, I can’t wait to see his face, and the thought of it brings tears to my eyes.  Paisley stands holding my hand, and then the door to the bay opens.  The silence is palpable as all the families stand waiting.  They march in one by one.  I kneel down next to Paisley and she sees him. “DADDY!! MY DADDY!! MAMA THAT’S MY DADDY!”

The Joint Communications Support Element, based at MacDill AFB.

The troops line up in formation, and we listen to first the 1Sgt and then Lt Col Burnham as they speak about their performance during this deployment, all the while Paisley stood confused.  She kept saying “Mama I want my Daddy”.  Then the words we waited for, he was released. 

I took off running towards where Brian was standing. He wasn’t there.  I turned and saw he ran around everyone the other direction towards us.  Paisley jumped into his arms “DADDY!!!”  Tears flowed down my cheeks as I watched my husband hold our oldest “princess. ” He kissed her and told her how much he missed her.

It didn't take long for Anastin, 8 months, to fall asleep in her Daddy's arms.

This was a stark difference to his last homecoming. Last time, she was terrified of him, this time she was so excited.  I was holding Anastin, and she was looking at Brian and Paisley, no doubt trying to figure it all out.  She turned 8 months this day, and for 7 months of her life her father has been gone.  I ask him if he wants to hold her, and warn him that she might cry as she has horrible separation anxiety.  He answers yes, and we swap children.

Anastin whimpered slightly but then was quiet. He kissed her and she took it all in.  Before we knew it, she had fallen asleep in her fathers arms.  Life is good, this is how it should be, a father holding his children.

Paisley has been attached to Brian’s hip since. He has been home, playing dress up and reading books.  She loves her Daddy and is enjoying having him home. 

SSG Brian Dorr plays with Paisley, his 2-year-old daughter, after returning from a seven-month deployment.

He has already returned to work, and at first she was upset by this, but he comes home for lunch and is home at night, which eases her concern.  We are taking life one step at a time, reintegration is never easy, and always comes with unique challenges.  A two year old can be overwhelming alone, but topped with an 8 month old with separation anxiety.  We take each day as it comes, and are all soaking in every second of having our family complete again.

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A Fallen Hero Comes Home

A photo from a prior Fallen Heroes escort along Bayshore Boulevard. Photo courtesy of Barbara Wright Brown Guzzon.

This morning shortly before 10, women wearing their bright red, MacDill AFB Enlisted Spouses Club shirts will assemble along Florida Keys Avenue, near the base theater.

Some will carry flags, some will bring their children not yet school age. They will be joined by active duty personnel, veterans and civilian staff who work on base. Hundreds will come together to pay tribute to a fallen airman who is coming home for a final time through MacDill Air Force Base.

It’s a sobering moment, a mixture of pride, tears and reflection on those currently deployed. Off the Base contributor Jackie Dorr, president of the MacDill ESC, describes what it’s like for her to attend such tributes in her recent blog: A Reality Check: Fallen Heroes.

An honor escort from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office will accompany Airman First Class Christoffer Johnson, 20, from MacDill to Bushnell National Cemetery.

Airman Johnson lived in Clarksville, Tenn. He was supporting Operation New Dawn and died Feb. 17 due to a non-combat related incident in Southwest Asia.  Johnson was assigned to the 423rd Security Forces Squadron, Royal Air Force Alconbury, England. His parents live in Florida.

Outside the MacDill gates, dozens of citizens will join the tribute, taking a moment to pay respect. The Lutz Patriots and the Troop Support Alliance plan to meet at The Colonnade Restaurant for the Honor Escort according to Shelly Vail. They’ll come with flags and banners to watch as the escort drives north on Bayshore to Platt St., Florida Ave., Scott St. to I-275 northbound.

Bittersweet Goodbyes: “You Know How to Do This”

A father captures a few more moments with his twin toddlers before deploying.

A friend of mine, Rachel, asked me to take pictures of her husband leaving.  Her request was nice actually; she stated she knew it might be difficult for me emotionally as my husband is still gone.  I told her not to worry and that I would be happy to oblige.  I met them at the terminal on base early Sunday morning and started snapping away from the distance.  Catching pictures of them candidly.

Dale played with his twins, Jacob and Olivia, knowing that in 6 months they will have grown and changed so much.    It was interesting to watch the phases of a day as an “outsider” and not the one saying goodbye.  At first, they are okay. They both knew what was coming, but the two of them played with Jacob and Olivia to distract themselves and keep the babies happy.

As the time passed, I could see the pain settling in on both of their faces.  As I snapped pictures, tears flowed down my cheeks. I knew the pain they were feeling all too well.  This was a bittersweet moment; Dales group would be relieving my husband’s. So while goodbye is never easy, it means my husband is coming home soon.  Memories of saying goodbye to Brian welled up inside me.

A family holds on tight before having to let go.

Dale embraced Rachel as they both whispered to each other, kissed each other and kissed their beautiful children.  Dale wiped tears away from Rachel’s face and then away from his own.   In the same room, there was an airman telling her son that she wanted him to write her every day and have his Daddy mail it to her.  It seems unreal, parents having to say goodbye for extended periods of time.

“We need everyone in the terminal we are leaving in 5,” a voice said loudly.  Dale looked at Rachel gathered up his bags, he thanked us for coming and being with her, as he knew she needed it.  Then we walked to the other room.

They called names one by one (very different than Brian’s they left as a large group).  I took more pictures while they held each other, knots building in their stomachs, as it got closer to his spot in the alphabet.

I felt like I was almost intruding on such a personal moment, but knew they wanted these captured.  They cried, smiled, whispered and kissed softly soaking in every moment, knowing how long it will be till they can do this again.

They called his name, one final embrace and kiss and he walks away.

As I took pictures of him walking away from her, I knew how she felt. I remember it all to well, wanting to shout, “No don’t go! Don’t leave me here!” knowing that you can’t. I stepped up and held her, as she cried.It is funny my husband has left so many times and I still couldn’t tell you the right thing to say to someone as they watch their spouse leave.

I heard some whimpering from the stroller, and knelt down to see that it was Olivia. I thought to myself they are lucky and unlucky all at the same time. They are lucky that they have no idea what is going on, but that makes them unlucky as well.We walked out of the terminal to watch the buses take the troops to the plane, and waved goodbye as the four buses drove off.

I looked at Rachel and told her something a friend told me once “You know how to do this”.

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base.  Her other entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

An Army Wife Thing: Giving Birth Over the Phone

 

A Reality Check – Fallen Heroes

Members of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club join service members and civilian staff to line the route of a Fallen Hero.

There is one thing that few military spouses will discuss with you. It looms over every conversation. I think we are afraid if we speak it, that it will be true.  We all fear that the black car will pull into our driveway, and two men in uniform will knock on our door.  

Since we have been stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, we have welcomed home upwards of nine fallen heroes. This is something that can shake even the toughest soldier to his core.  It has been our biggest reality check.

We (the Enlisted Spouses Club) get word a few days prior to the arrival of the fallen hero.  A good number of our ESC members usually attend, all wearing their red ESC shirts in support.  We gather near the base theater, flags in hand, tissues in our pockets.    We all stand and chat, catching up on what we have missed in each others lives over the past few days.  While we chat, the roadside fills up with military members in their uniforms, civilian DoD (Department of Defense) employees. Brian (my husband)even stood with us at a few times.  This happens until there isn’t an empty space along the entire stretch of the roadside.

Where we are standing, if we look to our left, we can see Hangar 4. The first sheriff’s car rounds the corner, lights on.  In an instant, it becomes silent, even our toddlers know to be quiet.   Paisley, my 2-year-old daughter, stands next to me holding her flag.  The silence is so heavy and thick, like a fog. 

The motorcade is long, and traveling slowly.  All the Service members there stand and salute, holding their salute until the final car has gone by.  It starts with sheriff’s cars, then followed by the family members and friends, the fallen hero and ending with the sheriff again.

I always cry because, other than the obvious, it forces me to deal with a harsh reality.  I remember in particular one family rolled down their windows, and audibly thanked the mourners for paying their respect.  My tears were flowing heavily, I didn’t know the soldier personally, but I did.  He was a soldier. He gave his life for the very thing my husband defends.

Many of the fallen heroes are so young, with young widows, and very young children.  Their parents undoubtedly were unprepared to be burying their children.

As military spouses, we rarely allow ourselves to think about this, and we most definitely do not openly discuss our fear. There is no need to. It seems an obvious fear.  Discussing it won’t change anything, and most definitely will not prepare us any better. After all, what preparation could there possibly be?

As the cars drive by, filled with sorrow, I find myself wondering what if it were me.  There is never an answer to that question, because honestly I don’t know.

More than a dozen members of the MacDill ESC turned out to welcome home Kevin Kammerdiener.

I have also had the privilege of welcoming a wounded warrior home, and this experience solidified even more how amazing our volunteer military is.   The ESC gathered at Tampa International to welcome home SPC Kevin Kammerdiener home after a long stent in San Antonio at BAMC burn unit.  My heart swelled, and I got goosebumps as SPC Kammerdiener exited the tram with his mom pushing his wheel chair. He didn’t expect a large crowd and when he saw how many people were there to celebrate him he was overtaken by excitement and joy. 

Kevin Kammerdiener is all smiles at his welcome home greeting of close to 100 people at TIA.

He had his mom stop so he could stand up and walk.  An amazing sight, it was difficult not to be over taken by emotions.

I have been around the military my entire life, and Brian has been in for a very long time. I have to say, for me in particular. MacDill has been my biggest reality check, I have been forced to acknowledge feelings and fears I would not have recognized otherwise. Life is never promised, war is deadly and the good ones don’t always survive.

The video of Marine Cpl. Jonathan Porto homecoming is courtesy of Barbara Wright Brown Guzzon and includes photos of the JCSE, Jackie Dorr’s husband’s unit.

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base.  Her other entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

An Army Wife Thing: Giving Birth Over the Phone

 

 

TV Report Captures Military Life of Deployed Families

Tuesday night, WTVT Fox 13 featured MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club President Jackie Dorr and mentioned this blog in a story about life as a military family.



Jackie is a frequent contributor to Off the Base.  Her entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest”

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

Oprah, First Lady Focus on Military Families

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