(Host) The Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington is homecoming central this week.
National Guard members are arriving by the planeload at Burlington International Airport as soldiers return from their deployment to Afghanistan.
Thursday morning, 98 Guard members arrived to emotional greetings with family, friends and military and political leaders.
Nearly 1,500 have been in Afghanistan and most are expected to be home by the end of the month.
VPR’s Steve Zind caught up with one Guard wife who was there to meet her husband when he arrived.
(Zind) For Ann Chapman of Tunbridge, it’s been a long year. Her husband, Sergeant Corey Chapman, has been on one of the Guard’s most dangerous missions, posted at a combat outpost near the Pakistan border.
While he’s been gone, Ann has been soloing as the parent of two young daughters and an infant son.
(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 what’s saved her is the support of family and especially the wives of other deployed soldiers. They became her closest friends.
(Chapman) "You call up your friend at 1 o’clock 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) As she sat in her Tunbridge dining room on Wednesday, Chapman was making final preparations for her husband’s return. The next morning she was up at 2 a.m. She went to breakfast with a group of Guard wives and then joined her parents and in-laws to wait for the soldiers to fly into the Air Guard.
(Announcement) "It sounds like our aircraft has landed.!"
(Zind) Chapman cheered with the rest of the families each time an announcement was made: First that the plane was on its way, then that it had landed.
(Chapman) "They said the aircraft has landed and every housewife in this place began combing her hair and throwing on Carmex!"
(Woman) "Do I look better?"
(Chapman) "You’re drop-dead gorgeous!"
(Zind) The loudest cheer came when the soldiers themselves filed single file into the big Air Guard hangar in South Burlington.
When she spotted her husband the normally talkative Chapman stood quietly as her daughters jumped into Corey Chapman’s arms. After a moment and through tears she mustered just two words.
(Chapman) "Hey soldier."
(Zind) For Corey Chapman, who deployed once before when he didn’t have a family, the year away underscored what’s important in life.
(Chapman) "These kids and my wife. I’ve done this before but it’s a lot different when you’ve got kids and a wife. They’re everything."
(Zind) Earlier at home, as she prepared for her husband’s return, Ann Chapman said she doesn’t expect her husband’s reentry to be difficult. But she says a year is a long time to be away from home – and lives that have been interrupted by deployment to a war don’t simply pick up where they left off.
(Chapman) "For you as well as for your spouse the major thing to do is sit down and say, ‘Wow, that was a helluva year. What do you want to do now? What do you feel is important now? What are things that you don’t much care about anymore? How can I help you and how can you help me? And how have you changed?’ Deployment is a life changing event."
(Zind) Just under 100 Vermont soldiers arrived home on Thursday. More welcome home ceremonies scheduled in coming days.
For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.