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Eileen eats her breakfast at the Redwood Falls armory in 2004. (Photo submitted)

This personal piece, originally written 2008, captures a moment in time for my family. As the 34th ID Red Bulls continue to return from Afghanistan this summer and the documentary “We’re in This Together” premieres on channel 2-2 at 8 p.m. Aug. 18, please consider how the military has affected you. Submit your story as part of our “Veterans Voices” project at AnokaCountyHistory.org.

As you read this, Eileen and I should be on our way to pick up Ted in Litchfield after being deployed for 11 months, almost to the day.

I’m sure it will look just like reunions always do in the pictures, just like it did for us when he came home from Kosovo. Three or four buses loaded with soldiers coming along the highway, escorted by police, local well-wishers and some Patriot Guard. Streets lined with signs made by families and friends shouting messages of pride and love. Electrified wives, girlfriends, children, even a dog or two, standing in front of the red brick armory wall, fidgeting with clothes, nails and hair.

I remember we all ate breakfast at the armory because we didn’t want to miss the buses. Then we waited. We said little to each other but constantly flicked our left wrists up to our faces to check the time. Finally, someone’s cellphone rang, and a shout of “They’re coming!” cut through the air, and we all grinned and started to cry and hug, and we rushed forward to crane our necks and eyes for the bus.

Nothing … nothing … nothing … then poof! There! The coach buses turned a corner, and we cheered and waved and cried some more. The buses pulled up in front of the armory and nearly toppled over as the soldiers rushed to the right side. They hung out of windows, waved and shouted. Then the lawn became a scene of massive chaos as hundreds of Army clones poured from the buses, swarming the lawn to find family members who could barely see over each other’s shoulders. All around I heard shrieking and squealing, sobbing and laughing as clumps of reunited families clung to each other.

And that’s when I saw him. Ted, scanning the crowd for my blond head. We locked eyes and grinned. I picked up Eileen, and together we rushed to him, the noisy chaos fading in my ears as we hugged for the first time. He took Eileen in his arms and laughed at her red, white and blue dress topped with princess crown, blue sunglasses, and her armful of cherished fuzzy friends. She didn’t let go for about a week.

With that scene, the Army will consider Ted’s deployment to Iraq finished and the drama done. On the contrary, it’s only the beginning of a new chapter.

While we no longer must worry about bullets and mortar hitting him, IEDs and suicide bombers, now comes a time of quiet worry. Of daily observation to see how civilian life fits a soldier used to living on adrenaline. A soldier used to living with boys, speaking boy language and using boy manners. A soldier who took orders, gave orders and didn’t think twice of using a pop bottle for a bathroom. They come home a bit rough around the edges.

I know it does little good to worry, but I will anyway. About Ted’s dusty driving skills, how he feels compelled to clean his hunting rifle each day and his restless, fitful sleep. About how we will get to know each other again, how Eileen will accept him as an authority figure and whether our cat will quit hissing at him. I’ll worry that he might start drinking too much or jump when he hears a car door slam. I’ll fret about his first day back to work, how much he misses his buddies and whether he likes my cooking. I’ll worry about how claustrophobic I feel with another person in the house, a smaller amount of silent personal time and whether we’ll still have pillow fights.

But as you read this, all those questions and what ifs floating in my head don’t matter. Because right now, possibly this very instant, they’re drowned out as I hug my teddy bear with tears streaming down my face, surrounded by screaming, shrieking families who have proven yet again they have the strength to survive. I can’t see what the future holds for us, but today? Today is a happy day. Today my husband came home.

Rebecca Ebnet-Desens is the executive director of the Anoka County Historical Society.

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