Early-morning welcome for Hanau soldiers returning from Iraq
November 3, 2006
ERLENSEE, Germany — A 2 a.m. encounter with the police often doesn’t bode well for the rest of the day.
“You see a cop this hour,” Capt. Gene Lutz said, “it’s usually not a good sign.”
But on this blustery early November morning, a small but highly motivated group of cop lovers turned out to greet 76 members of the 709th Military Police Battalion. Many of the well-wishers were children bent on arresting dad from Iraq after one whole year.
Lutz is the commander of the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment in Hanau. His four kids were among the faithful who turned out early Thursday for the sweet and mercifully short homecoming ceremony at the Fliegerhorst Casern gym in nearby Erlensee.
“I’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Lutz said later as his 4-year-old daughter, Victoria, tugged at his pant leg.
More than an hour earlier, before the buses carrying the soldiers arrived, Victoria and dozens of other kids horsed around the gym. Many grasped props, such as pompoms or miniature U.S. flags, while a few paid frequent visits to the bleachers, which by then had become a refuge of blankets and toys.
When the soldiers marched into the gymnasium, a chorus of cheers rang out. After a brief invocation and two short addresses, the cops were cut loose to embrace family life again.
“This is all that matters right here, all that matters,” Sgt. Joseph Chandler said to no one in particular as held his two daughters, Gabrielle, 5, and Jocelyn, 3, in his arms.
Moments later they stepped to the far side of the gym, where no one else was lingering. The three were in a world of their own, and watching it all was Chandler’s wife, Danielle.
“That’s his world, our daughters,” Danielle Chandler said as she looked at the three. “That’s what gets him through it.”
The 709th began their tour in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and then moved south in June toward Tikrit. Lutz said all of the soldiers from Hanau who deployed returned home safely.
“We had our share of close calls,” Lutz said. “It’s a dangerous business we are in.”
Chandler called the yearlong tour to Iraq “hell,” though he seemed to be referring to his family separation as much as anything else. Only hours removed from All Saints Day, Chandler considered himself blessed. “These are my angels,” Chandler said of his daughters. “I just pray the soldiers in Iraq make it back to their loved ones, too.”