The precise date and time of Shawn’s return back to America, specifically Washington, was up in the air pretty much until he finally landed on US soil. Kelsey’s educated speculation was the end of August or the first of September, but apparently it’s always subject to change. As the homecoming approached the date became concrete, however the expected time of arrival was much more fluid.
We were initially under the impression that Shawn would make his grand appearance around 3:30 a.m. The morning wake up call would have been ridiculously early, but it had some serious advantages in the traffic department. However, the starting times for the ceremony continued to fluctuate which meant Jarred and I got the privilege of sleeping in until 5:30. I believe the rest of Shawn’s welcoming party was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed around 4:30; thank goodness for short hair.
The fourth and final time change predicted we’d greet Shawn with opened arms at 12:30 in the afternoon. We convened with Kelsey and Jarred’s parents at a diner in Tacoma shortly after 8:00 a.m. to ensure that we avoided being stuck in traffic at all cost. It was mutually agreed upon that chilling in Tacoma for several hours was a better alternative than missing the festivities. After breakfast, complete with mimosas, and an additional stop at a local coffee shop, we piled into our respective vehicles and headed to the base.
The hanger was filled with joyful families eager to embrace their loved ones after over nine lengthy months of separation. This was Shawn’s third deployment, but prior to last Thursday I had only witnessed one of his departing ceremonies, never a homecoming. The atmosphere of this particular occasion was understandably much more euphoric. The room was decorated with family members holding balloons, flowers and embellished signs indicating how long they’ve waited to be reunited with their husbands, wives and parents.
As the opened hanger door began to close in anticipation of the brigade’s arrival the roar of the crowd increased in decibels and excitement. I personally loved the small boy standing in front of us who repeatedly yelled, “Push the green button!” He was anxious for the last hindrance between the reunion with his dad to finally be removed. At last the door began to slowly creep open, the ambience grew even more boisterous and the elation was infectious. Everyone’s heroes were finally home!
As the soldiers began their march into the hanger we spotted Shawn in the very back row close to where we were standing. I was personally ecstatic with his position because I had packed my camera in hopes of documenting Shawn and Kelsey’s “first look.” We were previously instructed that a bugle would be sounded to indicate everyone was allowed to approach [read: attack] their loved ones. However, as soon as the prayer was finished everyone, including Kelsey, made a mad dash to their veteran.
There are no words to describe the pure joy that radiated throughout that hanger while families were reunited, so I’m not even going to attempt to try. Instead I am going to post some of the sweetest pictures I’ve ever had the privilege of capturing. Forgive the blurriness, but these are raw, candid, beautiful pictures of months of prayers being answered. Kelsey said it best in her instagram post – “The one moment that erases all the time apart!”
I think it goes without saying that the wives and husbands left behind while their spouses bravely serve our country are saints. My sister-in-law is definitely no exception as I’m constantly amazed by her strength. I cannot even begin to fathom the sacrifice that is made by all parties involved, including all the adorable children that proudly held signs boasting that their heroes were finally returning home, and I just want to say THANK YOU. Thank you to all of those who courageously answer the call of service and to their families who hold the glue together back home in their absence. And most importantly, WELCOME HOME!