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Back From Afghanistan, Soldiers Are Home For Holidays

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Soldiers from the Vermont National Guard will be back on American soil in time for the holiday season. The 1,500 soldiers are returning in waves this month from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. Steve Zind of Vermont Public Radio reports on their homecoming.


Fifteen hundred members of the Vermont National Guard's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have spent the past year in Afghanistan. Now they're coming home. Every few days a new crowd gathers to welcome another group of soldiers. Steve Zind of Vermont Public Radio spoke with the wife of one Guard member as she awaited a soldier's return.

Ms. ANN CHAPMAN: See, this is (unintelligible) and his dad and his grandfather and his great-grandfather.

STEVE ZIND: For a year now, except for a brief R&R, Ann Chapman and her children have seen little of Corey Chapman. But photos of him line the walls of their log house in the hills above Tunbridge, Vermont.

As a sergeant in the Guard, 31-year-old Corey Chapman has been in Afghanistan at a combat outpost near the Pakistan border. In her husband's absence, Ann has been soloing as the parent of their two young daughters and 10-month-old son.

Ms. CHAPMAN: I'm 33. But it's not the years, it's the mileage. And I think this year I've aged a few hundred years.

ZIND: Chapman says community support at the beginning of a deployment wanes over time. She understands. People have their own lives to lead. So she bonded with the wives of soldiers serving with her husband. The women got together weekly over pizza and saw each other through births and birthdays. And they just listened.

Ms. CHAPMAN: You know, you call up your friend at 1:00 in the morning and you say, Oh my gosh, I can't do this. And she says, You know what, it's funny, I'm awake too and I can't do it either.

ZIND: Chapman says she couldn't let her feelings show when she was with her children.

Ms. CHAPMAN: It is more important when you have young children looking at you, wondering if they should be worrying, to show that everything is fine. And it's like being the duck. You look at a duck, he's floating across the surface, and underneath his feet are going like crazy. That's a lot like a military mom.

ZIND: There's been an upside to the deployment. Chapman says it's given her an appreciation of the things many of us take for granted.

Ms. CHAPMAN: Sometimes I see couples and they're arguing, you know, and they get mad at each other in the mall or something. And I say, wow, it's so nice to have your husband home to argue with.

ZIND: Lives interrupted by a year in a war zone don't usually pick up right where they left off. So Chapman says it's important for couples to take stock when a deployment ends.

Ms. CHAPMAN: For you, as well as for your spouse, the major thing to do is sit down and say, Wow, that was a hell of a year. What do you want to do now and how have you changed? Deployment is a life-changing event.

ZIND: On December 9th, a crowd of family members waited inside a big, brightly lit Air Guard hanger, warming themselves and listening for the sound of the approaching plane. It carried 100 returning Guard soldiers, including Chapman's husband.

Ms. CHAPMAN: They said the aircraft has landed and every housewife in this place began combing her hair and throwing on Carmex. You're drop-dead gorgeous.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ZIND: When she spotted her husband, Chapman stood quietly as her daughters jumped into their father's arms. After a moment she mustered just two words.

Ms. CHAPMAN: Hey, soldier.

ZIND: Corey Chapman served in Bosnia more than a decade ago, but this was his first deployment as a family man.

Sergeant COREY CHAPMAN (Vermont National Guard): It's a lot different when you've got kids and a wife and stuff. They're everything.

ZIND: Chapman says he'll take a little time off to be with his family before deciding whether to go back to his old job as a farmhand or change careers. The Vermont Guard plans to have all 1,500 soldiers back home by the end of the month.

For NPR news, I'm Steve Zind.

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