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Proud Families Hang Tough for Late Arriving Loved Ones

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

BALTIMORE, Nov. 15, 2003 – "Today is Army day," proclaimed 5-year-old Allan 'AJ' Hill II on Nov. 14 as he stood in the arrival area for international flights at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Allan Hill II, 5, colors a picture while waiting for his sister, Katrina, to arrive at Baltimore- Washington International Airport Nov. 14. A private first class with the 228th Transportation Detachment out of Allentown, Pa., Katrina was due in on a rest and recuperation leave flight from Iraq. Fog in Germany delayed the flight's arrival by six hours. Photo by K.L. Vantran.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"'TiTi' is coming home," he added and quickly looked at his father. "Right, Dad?" A confirming nod from Allan Hill of Reading, Pa., put a smile on the youngster's face.

TiTi (pronounced 'tee-tee') is the boy's sister, Katrina, a private first class with the 228th Transportation Detachment, Pennsylvania National Guard unit from Allentown, who was due in on the next rest and recuperation leave flight from Iraq. Hill said he, his wife Betty, AJ and family friend Marine Lance Cpl. James Hassler had left the Pennsylvania town around 1 a.m. to meet the flight's scheduled 5:30 a.m. arrival. Hassler, on leave from Camp Lejeune, N.C., was serving on the USS Austin off the coast of Africa when his unit was called to the war in Iraq.

"We'd rather be a little early," said Allan, a Vietnam veteran. "I haven't seen her in over a year." He said his daughter graduated from high school last year, went to boot camp in November, then to advance training, and then was called up.

Katrina had a chance to come home in October, but chose to wait and let another soldier come home first, said Betty.

At about 4:30 a.m. the family got word the flight had been delayed for about six hours. "That's OK," said a disappointed Betty. "She's worth the wait." They found out later that the delay was due to fog at the plane's departure point in Germany.

The Hills weren't the only ones waiting for a loved one. Monacarol Yankanich and her daughter, Sheila Benton, anxiously awaited the homecoming of son and brother Sheldon Dneaster, a specialist with the 101st Airborne Division.

The duo said they had left their home in Bedford County, Pa., about 15 miles from the site of the hijacked airliner crash of Sept. 11, 2001, around 1:30 a.m.

"It'll be super nice to have him home home for Thanksgiving," said Yankanich, who added Dneaster's father served in Vietnam and his grandfather in the Korean War.

Although she said misses him and worries, Yankanich said she's proud of her son and what he is doing in Iraq. "I feel what they're doing protecting against terrorism - is worthwhile," she added. "If it's for the good of the country, it's worth it."

She said she worries about everyone over there. "The best thing (for families of deployed service members) to do is to keep busy," she advises, "and don't watch a lot of news."

Red, white and blue balloons survived a week's delay, a Veterans Day parade and a more-than-five-hour car ride from Fairmont, W. Va., to accompany a "Welcome Home, Bobby" sign for Spc. Robert Means, a reservist with the 459th Engineer Company, Bridgeport, W. Va.

His mother, Sarah, sister, Patty Desmuke, and 5-month-old nephew, David, had departed their home around midnight. The trio even ran into a snowstorm and severe winds on their journey.

"It'll be very nice to have him home for Thanksgiving, and we'll celebrate Christmas too," said Patty, who was anxious for her brother to meet his nephew for the first time.

When the family found out the plane was delayed, Patty curled up with David on a blanket of coats on the airport floor for a nap, while Sarah kept watch. "She pulled a 10- hour shift at work before we left," whispered Sarah, as she rubbed her tired eyes.

Retired Army military policeman Timothy Lloyd, who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the 1990s, sipped his third cup of coffee as he waited for his son, Timothy Jr., a private first class with the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

"He's a military policeman," said Timothy. "He's doing the same thing I did. He always loved the military and uniforms, and wanted to join since he was 5 years old."

Timothy said he's received e-mails and letters since his son has been away, and he's looking forward to swapping stories. "He'll say it's a little tough, but he won't complain. I guess we can talk about the sand, the camels," he added with a chuckle.

The former MP said it's hard not to worry about his son, and added that his 85-year-old mother tells him what he's going through now is payback for what she went through with him.

"Her brothers served in Korea and I was in, too," said Timothy. "We all came back home."

Timothy said the R&R program definitely is needed, but that he's concerned about how the soldiers feel when they have to go back to Iraq.

"It's good for them to get a break, but he's been in Baghdad since almost Day One, and to have to get back in that mind set after leave will probably be tough," said Timothy. "But, if I was his age, I'd do the same thing."

As for plans while his son is home, Timothy said TJ loves perogies and he has four huge bags in the freezer, so they'll start with a perogie fest and go from there.

Around 11 a.m. the weary families gathered once again near the international terminal, waiting for their loved ones. Thirty minutes later, word came that the plane had arrived. Smiles and excited chatter filled the area. At 11:44 a.m. the first of the R&R passengers walked through the doors amid welcome-home cheers.

One by one, soldiers met up with their families. Tears, hugs and shouts of joy replaced the worries and weariness. But, perhaps 5-year-old AJ summed up the moment best.

"We're going home," he shouted while perched atop James' shoulders. "TiTi's home."

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