Hugs of sorrow and hugs of joy: The journey downrange and home again

Pfc. Jeremy Monteleone holds his daughter Jaden as his wife, Tiana Musson, and his son, Emrick Monteleone, wait their turn while being reunited after a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.

VILSECK, Germany — Seven months after leaving his family for deployment to Afghanistan, Pfc. Jeremy Monteleone embraced them again, pulling his daughter into his arms and cradling, for the first time, his 7-month-old son.

Like other soldiers who filed into a banner-strung gymnasium Tuesday to the cheers of family and friends, the 24-year-old infantryman from Chicago will now try easing back into family life, a readjustment after nearly a year away at war.

The deployment was largely quiet for his unit, a troop that patrolled the long stretches of road connecting outlying bases to their own, a large logistics and command hub. Yet the days brought their own intensity, as soldiers trained and prepared as if every trip outside base gates could turn into a fight.

Now Monteleone looks forward to the coming weeks with his wife, Tiana, and his children, 5-year old Jaden and Emrick, a family he’s only seen via Skype over the past seven months. He hopes to travel, and he’s already thinking about the things he couldn’t do or get in Afghanistan.

“I was so excited, everyone was talking about what they were going to eat and drink first,” he said last weekend. “I even told Tiana, ‘I want to sit down and take it all in, just take it all in.’ ”

After the reunion will come the new routine; Monteleone will fall back into formation, return to training and say goodbye to fellow soldiers moving on to other units. He’ll re-enlist, he said, and he looks forward to working with a new first sergeant.

And although he didn’t get the combat badge or the experience many soldiers hope for when deploying, he said he appreciates the experiences he did have.

“We are always told 1 percent of the American population joins the military, and 1 percent of those people go infantry, and even fewer of those deploy — ‘Congratulations you are a select few,’ ” he said. “Honestly, at first I thought those were just blank words, but really it does make me feel better, because it’s true. I may not have that combat badge, but I have a deployment patch.”



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