Families remember 7 months without loved ones
Stars and Stripes March 22, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Families began gathering at the Camp Foster Community Center as early as noon Thursday awaiting the return of Combat Logistics Battalion 4, which has been deployed to Iraq since August.
More than 200 Marines and sailors were scheduled to come in Wednesday night, but the return was delayed until Thursday morning and then delayed again. Families finally reunited with their loved ones Thursday afternoon.
But for some, waiting out the slow-passing hours on Wednesday and Thursday was as tough as any time in the previous seven months.
The longest waitWanda Boone and her daughter-in-law Kia Holmes had flown from New York a couple of days ago just to be here for the return of her son, Sgt. Chris Holmes.
The seven months of waiting and the 19 hours of flight time were nothing compared to the extra hours of waiting Thursday, Boone said.
“This morning, that was the longest wait,” she said.
Boone and Kia Holmes were up by 5 a.m. in anticipation of Chris’ arrival and then had to find ways to fill the empty hours until he was here, Kia said.
Because Chris has unaccompanied orders for Okinawa, Kia doesn’t live here and the last time she or Boone saw Chris was when he visited them in New York in July, she said. That is part of what has made the final wait so hard, she said.
Moments before her son’s arrival, Boone said all she had planned was to “just hug him and say I love him.”
A great dadThe most difficult part of the separation for Carol Aquino, wife of Capt. Wellington Aquino, was being a single mother to their children, Alana, 7, and Alaric, 3.
“He’s such a great dad, not having him around has been really hard,” Carol said.
“The kids have been anxious, saying, ‘When are we going to see daddy? Is he here yet?’” she said.
Hardest hit has been Alana, Carol said.
“Every time she saw a picture of him, she would cry,” Carol said.
When her husband sent Alana a birthday card, she “read it all the time,” Carol said.
They were able to keep in touch with him through e-mails and the occasional phone call, she said.
Their big plans for the night included a homemade dinner of his favorite dish — sinigand, a Philippine beef stew.
So much missedTo say the Wagners have missed 1st Lt. Richard Wagner is “an understatement,” said his wife, Sonja Wagner.
Just knowing “that the moment is here gives me butterflies,” she said.
The family has missed him, but what hurts most are the things that he’s missed with their daughter Marissa, 5, she said.
Marissa’s first day of kindergarten was an emotional day, Sonja said. Tears began to well up in Sonja’s eyes just remembering it.
That was the day Sonja missed Richard’s presence the most, she said.
“To me, that’s the beginning of the next 18 years,” she said, adding that he has also missed his daughter learning to read. “So many milestones that he has missed.”
The couple’s son, Dayton, 10, has tried to step into the gap.
“Dad said that I was the man of the house,” Dayton said. That means “taking care of my sister, the family, taking care of you guys,” he told his mother.
Reuniting with his family is just “overwhelming,” said Richard as he reached out to hug both his children.
Now he just wants to go home with his family to “relax and spend time together.”
‘The freakiest thing’Petty Officer 3rd Class Maskel Suarezapecheche missed a pretty big milestone, too.
“He missed out on his firstborn,” said his wife, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lynn Suarezapecheche.
She couldn’t wait to share Alicia’s smile with her husband, she said.
When her husband saw and held their daughter for the first time, his face lit up, but he admitted, “I’m shaking. Holding my baby is the freakiest thing in my life. I’m afraid that I’ll break her.”
Lynn sent him weekly pictures of her pregnancy and videos of their 10-week-old daughter, but it wasn’t enough, she said.
“The hardest thing was not being able to share the pregnancy and birth with him,” she said.
Being an active-duty sailor has helped her through the deployment, she said. Because of her military service, it was easier for her to understand when he couldn’t get in touch with her.
This deployment has also shown her that they have a very strong relationship, she said.
“If we can handle seven months apart,” she said, “we can handle anything for the rest of our lives together.”