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A Soldier’s Return Home

In December of 2004 and the first week in January of 2005 I followed Seth Clark and his family as they all prepared for his deployment to Iraq. Seth is in the National Guard and joined while in high school with thoughts of it paying for college, not going to war.
Seth and his family dealt with the situation as good as any in their shoes would. His deployment was initially supposed to be on December 26, 2004. It ended up being held off until January 3, 2005.

I spent the better part of his last days as a civilian with Seth and his family. They graciously allowed me into their home and let me photograph them in their saddest moments. For that I am so grateful to them. They opened up to me and allowed me to tell their story as their their son, brother, and finance was preparing for war.
I was very nervous when the photo story ran in the paper. The only people that I wanted to please were Seth and his family. I wanted to make sure that I accurately told their story. After the papers were printed I left a bundle of newspapers on their front porch and heard they were happy with the way everything ran. I also mailed several copies to Seth, who was in New Jersey training. When I heard he was happy with it I was positive that the story had been told correctly. He even told me that the pictures captured the esscence of the way he felt.
I corresponded with Seth via e-mail a few times while he was in Iraq. While I was interning in Florida, he came home for a brief visit over the summer. So, it had been nearly 14 months since I’d seen him.

Rumors started circulating that the troops were coming home. There were 4 other soldiers from Carterville, the town I cover, in Seth’s company. I photographed his mother, Connie, just over a week ago as she and her family hung yellow ribbons down the street where they reside. It wasn’t official, but word was that the unit would be home before the beginning of March.
It became official a few days back that they would all be coming home on Feb. 28. So, I left school earlier than usual and made the hour long drive up to Mount Vernon, where the unit was deployed from just over a year ago.
As I drove through the town I was just amazed at the patriotism that was shown. Nearly all of the local businesses had a “Welcome Home” message of some sort on their signs. Flags lined the streets and yellow ribbons were everywhere. It was something I had never seen before and it was truly amazing. It was not hard to find the high school gym, where the celebration was to take place. It seemed like every car in front of me was going there.
I arrived in the gym and quickly find Seth’s future in-laws, Linda and Gary Emery. Linda has been so helpful to always let me know what’s going on with Seth throughout the past year. She told me that Jessica, Seth’s fiance, had spoken to him recently and that everything was on time as scheduled.
The gym was engrossed with anxiety as the time grew nearer. The men playing bagpipes appeared and the gym erupted with cheers. The soldiers entered, marching in formation, everyone was trying to spot their soldier as they came in. They lined up in formation and took a few quick orders, then…..”DISMISSED.” Seth came running to Jessica and they met within five seconds. It was quite a scene and very hard to describe. To see so many tears of joy, so many loved ones reuniting; fathers with children, husbands with wives, mothers with sons, it was one of the most emotional settings I’ve ever seen.

Once it settled down reality still hadn’t sunken in with the families. It was twenty minutes before I actually got to shake Seth’s hand and tell him that I was glad he made it back.
A small escort was lined up for the troops as they entered Carterville. A few people lined up in the streets as the fire trucks and soldiers drove by. Those that did were waving flags and showing the patriotism in full force. Every soldier in the company made it back safely, no one was injured. As for the soldiers and their families, it just has to be nice be home.

Anonymous - Max:
What are you doing ?

Phil Greer

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