Military homecoming. No two words give a military family such an overwhelming feeling of angst, joy, excitement and even nervousness. From the moment our loved ones leave for a deployment, this is the day we look forward to most and immediately start counting down to after our goodbyes are said. This day pulls on the heartstrings of anyone who has ever witnessed one – military and civilian alike. In our recent history, military homecomings have been a recognition of sacrifice and celebration of a job well done. In 2020, military homecomings still have this underlying theme but look drastically different.
My husband recently returned from a 10-month deployment. He left before COVID took over the country. As his return grew nearer, it became a complete guess as to what his redeployment (military homecoming) would look like.
When most think of a homecoming ceremony, they typically think of what they see on television. An airplane hangar filled with hundreds of military families holding posters, waving flags and holding babies who have yet to meet their mom or dad. The rumble of the C-130 landing. Service members make their way across the tarmac in perfect uniform formation. Double doors slide open. A mad dash to find your loved one in a sea of camo. It is just moments before you recognize a familiar face and run into one another’s arms. The months apart quickly are forgotten, and all feels right in the world as families are reunited.
In these picture-perfect military homecomings, there are no masks in sight and there is no social distancing. A military homecoming in the midst of a pandemic looks different. Hundreds of people do not gather. They do not all run up and hug one another and it would not make for good TV.
When that moving target of a homecoming date was finally set, plans for our unit’s homecoming were released. Service members were brought home in groups, not for a homecoming ceremony but simply to be picked up. Everyone wore masks and had their temperature checked while we stood outside waiting for a bus or two at a time to roll up and catch a glimpse of our soldier. Engineering tape separated family and military personnel to help mitigate any cross-contamination.
My daughter and I stood out in an open field waiting to see our soldier. The emotion, the familiarity of my husband’s face even in a sea of camo, waiting for him to hug our 10-month-old daughter for the first time since she was 3-weeks-old… no pandemic would ever be able to impact this monumental milestone. There was no pomp and circumstance, but my husband was home, and all felt right in our little world.
COVID has taken so much from us but it will never take away the joy of our family being reunited after a deployment.