Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Troops' Families Bond As They Wait
BY MICK WALSH
The huge television screen inside Freedom Hall, the passenger terminal at Lawson Army Airfield, showed the estimated time of arrival for the returning soldiers was still two hours away.
Nancy Leonard, her daughter, Shana Dunn, and her granddaughters, Chloe and Tinley, knew it would be a while before they could wrap their arms around Spc. Michael Cox.
"It really doesn't matter how long we have to sit here," said Leonard, who lives and works in Ruskin, Fla., a town about 20 minutes south of Tampa, Fla. "My son is coming home."
Leonard and Dunn were more than happy to talk to a visitor, if just to make time go by a little faster.
The reporter learned a lot about Cox. He's 19, loves fried chicken, has already re-enlisted for a second Army hitch, missed Christmas for the first time in his life and is a graduate of East Bay High School.
Sitting in the row in front of Leonard, Dunn and the girls was the Rodriguez family, who also had traveled from Florida to welcome home a soldier.
Chris Rodriguez, who had overheard bits of the conversation behind her, turned to Leonard and asked: "Did you say your son graduated from East Bay?"
It turned out that Ruben Rodriguez, class of '04, and Michael Cox, class of '06, were Fighting Indians at the same time.
The Rodriguez family hails from Apollo Beach, one of several towns, like Ruskin, in Hillsborough County that sends students to East Bay.
Neither family knew if their sons had known each other in school or while serving in the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
The school is located in Gibsonton on Big Bend Road, the same highway that houses the Surfside Seafood Shack.
"We're at the intersection of Big Bend and Highway 301," Shana Dunn said. "We just opened the place. My brother doesn't even know about that yet."
Just about that time, the huge screen was showing a video taken of a fun run at Forward Operating Base Hammer.
"There's my boy now," Leonard shouted.
Two hours later, both Cox and 22-year-old Rodriguez were shown exiting a chartered aircraft.
Carlos Rodriguez, an Army vet, was excited to know that he and his wife knew many of the same people as Leonard and Dunn.
"I'm sure we might stop at their seafood place one day," he said. "My son loves fishing, any kind of fishing."
The families exchanged addresses, then resumed their vigil until the plane landed.
Even after the chartered aircraft puts down at Lawson, the wait is hardly over.
The big screen updates waiting families how long it will take for equipment turn-in (1 hour), in-processing (30 minutes) and a Marne 6 (division commander) safety briefing (30 minutes).
Then, and only then, can the reuniions take place.
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