Reunited at last: A soldier’s homecoming

Written by Nicholas Serrano. Posted in Community News, Featured

Published on September 06, 2011 with No Comments


The troops from the 656th Transportation Company returned home with hundreds of family, friends and well wishers in attendance.

A giant American flag waved proudly in the late summer sun. Hoisted up on the extended ladders of two fire trucks, it was the first of many welcome home displays laid out proudly for the Army’s 656th Transportation Company, part of Operation Enduring Freedom. They returned home after being deployed for a year in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.

With hundreds gathered, flags waving, police sirens screaming and motor cycle engines roaring, the soldier’s caravan pulled into the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9323 in Lake Station.

Of all 88 soldiers returning to their families and friends, one man was coming home to something special. Army Specialist Felix Richard Duron Jr. climbed off the bus and into the arms of his wife Mindy, who was holding his month-old son, whom he’d never seen before. With cameras, his family and hundreds of people surrounding him, he embraced his son for the first time and kissed his 18-month-old daughter, Lillian Faith-Marie Duron.

He was home.

Life in the military is nothing new for the Duron family. His grandfather, Felix Duron Senior (deceased), was a Staff Sergeant in the 173rdArmy Airborne Brigade from 1964 to 1966 during the Vietnam War. Later he joined the 12th Special Forces Army Airborne Group, part of the Army Reserves, for 10 years. Duron’s Uncle Lino A. Vasquez, was a sergeant in the Marines from 1953 to 1957 during the Korean Conflict where he operated an M114 155mm Howitzer. Duron’s Uncle, Jesse Duron was a private in the 101st Army Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles, in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1968. Yet another uncle, Mike Duron, was a sergeant in the Army’s 127th Signal Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, from 1966 to 1968 during the Korean Conflict. Serving their country, dedicated and proudly, runs in the Duron family.

Duron’s military commitment started with a desire to provide for himself and his family. After completing his advanced individual training (AIT), Duron was informed he was being deployed to Afghanistan after two weeks. Understandably so, his family was distraught and nervous. His mother Kelly Usher, while proud, was upset and scared for her son.

“I was devastated when I found out he was going overseas. We kept in contact on the computer while he was gone,” said Usher. “I was so excited to see him! This was the longest I’ve been away from my son.”

Life for a military family can be difficult.

With every news report, there’s the chance of a battle breaking out, of insurgents and roadside bombs. Duron’s company was in charge of preparing convoy trucks and guarding cargo. Each day spent in the hot Afghanistan sun could potentially be his last. Thankfully, Duron and the rest of the 656th Transportation Company made it home safe. Mindy was shaking with anticipation in the minutes leading up Duron’s arrival.

“I’ve spent less than a year with my husband since he’s been in the military. I’m happy and excited he’s coming home! It was rough having two kids with him being overseas,” said Mindy. “I can’t be more excited or anxious to have him back!”

Excitement was an understatement. The convoy of trucks, police cruisers, motor cycles and the buses filled with soldiers drove slowly down Central Avenue and pulled into the VFW with everyone seemingly filled with anticipation. There was an unmistakable feeling of love and gratitude. Hugs and kisses greeted the soldiers amidst shouts and cheers as they stepped off the buses.

The welcome home celebration was organized by the Blue Star Mothers for the Troops, in conjunction with the Family Readiness Group. The Blue Star Mothers for the Troops, are comprised of Stacy Gonzolez, mother of Private 1st Class Brandon Gonzolez and Tammy Cuppy, mother of Specialist Robert Cuppy, who are both part of the 656thTransportation Company. They would talk to soldiers on Facebook, write letters, send cards and care packages, virtually anything they could do to support the troops and keep their spirits high. Even if Gonzolez or Cuppy didn’t personally know the soldiers, they would write inspiring things and leave heartfelt messages on the Facebook walls of the soldiers in order to help them stay psychologically and emotionally strong during their deployment.

“We finally get to take our soldiers home,” said Cuppy. “This is the first time we get to see our soldiers since they left a year ago.”

In the year they were deployed, Duron and his fellow soldiers bonded in ways that are difficult to understand in civilian life. Everything from their daily routine, vocabulary and mindsets differ dramatically from an ordinary life.

“The thing I’ll miss the most about being overseas would have to be my battle buddies even though they all are a pain,” said Duron. “It’s just like having a ton of brothers and sisters.”

Coming back to civilian life can be a difficult adjustment. Duron said he handling the transition well. Pulling into the VFW, he said it felt like a dream. Seeing his family, his children and holding is son in for the first time, made that dream materialize into reality.

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