It was a rainy Saturday morning on April 21, 2012. My husband, Dillon, and I were newlyweds, married for exactly a week, when I watched him walk onto a plane – unsure of when or if I would ever see him again. He was heading back to Vicenza, Italy, where he was serving with the United States Army as an Infantry Paratrooper, later deploying to Afghanistan for nine months.
At the time, I was a TV news producer for a local station in Lafayette, Louisiana. To this day, I wonder how I ever made it through my husband’s nine-month deployment while working in the news industry. Not a day dragged by that I didn’t compulsively check the headlines coming out of Afghanistan. It became my morning routine – checking news headlines then checking to see when the last time my husband or any of his fellow soldiers were on Facebook messenger – because, after my husband’s platoon had a soldier killed in action just 15 days into their deployment, it didn’t take me long to learn what a “blackout” meant.
As much as I hated the fast pace of technology that year, I’m not sure how we would have done without. It was our lifesaver. The only way we were able to communicate for our first year of marriage was via Facebook or Skype. We even spent our first Christmas as a married couple opening gifts over Skype.
We were halfway through his deployment when we finally got a possible date of his deployment ending. I looked up plane tickets every day to surprise him in Italy when he returned. After nine months in a war zone, I wanted nothing more but to be the person waiting for him when he walked back on that base in Italy. But, I had to face reality – a round-trip ticket for me and a round-trip ticket for Dillon to come to Louisiana for leave – all in a matter of two weeks just wasn’t something we could afford. So, I waited 349 days to see my handsome husband walk back in the same airport where I last saw him.
It’s a day I’ll never forget – April 5, 2013 – just 16 days shy of a year. I had butterflies in my stomach all day. I think I was more nervous that day than I was on our wedding day. Let’s face it: War changes a person, and no matter how much we talked on Skype, physically being in his presence again after so long filled me with so many emotions. I sometimes think only a fellow army wife would understand.
My husband was home for the entire month of April 2013. In that short time, we crammed it all in: our first wedding anniversary celebration, my 26th birthday, a few days in New Orleans, a few days in Austin, TX, a Carrie Underwood concert, a camping trip, and, of course, all the delicious food Louisiana has to offer. It was a lot to do before he had to return to Italy to serve his last year of duty.
And after living apart for three years, one month, and 19 days – my husband returned to Lafayette, Louisiana, for good on March 20, 2014. Looking back on the experience, we wouldn’t change it for anything. We have been through more relationship struggles than most couples experience in a lifetime. We love each other, we appreciate each other, and most important of all, we don’t ever take each other for granted.
We are not the only couple who lived a military journey like this. There are still thousands of soldiers out there who are away from their families daily. They are missing holidays, birthdays, and other major life events to serve our country.
And with that, I have a challenge for you today – or any day you see a veteran or active military personnel in uniform – stop, shake their hands, and say, “Thank you for your service.” Those five little words can go so far for someone who has put his or her life on the line for not only our country, but for you. Because, as the saying goes, freedom isn’t free.
To see more photos of Dillon’s homecoming, 349 days in the making, click here: http://www.theresaelizabethphoto.com/blog/2013/4/nichole-dillon-reunited
Coverage of Dillon’s homecoming by KATC TV 3: