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First 24 hours: mommy's home: SFS mom returns to family life after deployment.

1 December 2011

A calendar above the living room desk still showed June, the month before Senior Airman Amber Boyd left her family for a six-month deployment in Iraq. But this day was going to be a special one for the Boyd family. When Amber's husband, Alfred Boyd III, got the four children dressed and ready in their Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., home, they believed they were going to the airport to pick up their grandparents, not realizing the excitement that awaited them in a few hours.

Six-year-old Caira was the first to notice it wasn't Grandma and Grandpa the family was meeting at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, and her mother wasn't coming home after the holidays. Mom was home now.

"Mommy!" Caira screamed, when she spotted her mother in a group of Airmen walking toward baggage claim.

A hug and kiss for each child began the mother's first 24 hours home from being deployed for four months with the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Amber, along with three fellow 633rd Security Forces Squadron members, Staff Sgt. John Duncan; Senior Airman Kristian Robles Cruz; and Airman Basic Wesley Joseph, deployed in July, but returned a couple of months early after President Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

Four months was long enough for the Boyd family.

"It just felt amazing, hugging [my children] after not hugging them for so long," Amber said a few hours later. "I made sure I kissed and hugged each one. Each child deserved their own big hug and kiss from Mom. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was gone. Now I'm back, and there they are."

The family's first stop after the airport was the 633rd SFS at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, where the squadron welcomed home the four returning members. Amber turned in her weapons and listened to a short briefing from the unit deployment manager before the family piled into the car and headed for home.

Nearly three hours after her plane landed, Amber was home for the first significant amount of time since leaving in June to complete combat skills training at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in preparation for her deployment.

Minutes after arriving, she played a tug-of-war game with Bryce, the family's Saint Bernard-pit bull mix, in the backyard. Then, she headed into her kitchen to make hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her children, one of the things she missed most during her deployment.

"Eating together [is] how I show you how much I care," she said. "I give you food. I cook for you."

Amber took advantage of the family time to field the children's questions and get updates on their lives, while engaging in small sidebar conversations with her husband. One of the topics they discussed was the changes in her children in the past four months.

Eight-year-old Elijah had grown taller and slimmer. Caira's permanent teeth were rapidly replacing the baby teeth she had been missing before her mom's deployment. Four-year-old Kanyon had begun talking more clearly and more often. Tenmonth-old Alfred IV, who the family calls Little Lenny, was also growing teeth, in addition to crawling and getting close to taking his first steps.

The realization that she had missed her daughter's birthday in August hit the mother hard. Amber also missed Caira's birthday while she was separated from the family for technical school and for a 2009 deployment to Kuwait.

Before Amber left home for combat skills training, the parents prepared their children for the separation, with the help of the elementary school's guidance counselor.

The family doesn't watch the news, so they shielded the children from the most traumatic aspects of Iraq.

"They knew about the desert, sand and [heat]," Amber said. "And they knew I had to carry my weapon."

Amber's husband, a former Marine, stepped in as both mother and father for his family during his wife's deployment. As if four children weren't enough, Alfred also watched the Robles-Cruz's baby while his mother, also a 633rd SFS active-duty member, worked. He altered his parenting style to compensate for the mother's absence, but tried to keep life as normal as possible.

"Now, it's mostly relief that she's back and unharmed," Alfred said. "I'm happy to see her, but mostly this is the kids' time. I'm trying to let things slide a bit, so they can get accustomed to her being back before I jump back into daddy mode."

He cleaned the house the day before his wife returned, even though within about eight hours, his wife had the vacuum cleaner out herself. Still, Amber appreciates the job her husband did with the family while she was deployed.

"I learned to let him do it his way," she said. "I have a slight control issue with the house and the kids. There's no denying it. But he's got it; he did great, and the kids are all breathing. I know his job of taking care of the family is as important as my job of deploying. I don't think the spouses who stay home get enough credit."

By the seventh hour of her first day home, the baby was taking his afternoon nap, and Amber had started going through her luggage and pulling out gifts she brought back for her children. She pulled out camel and elephant trinkets, saltwater taffy from Maine, a bejeweled pink scarf for Caira, and head flashlights for the boys.

Sometime between the ninth and 10th hours of the Boyds' reunion, the family prepared for a dinner with a couple of the security forces members who were on Amber's deployment team. One of the most pleasant aspects of her time at Joint Base Balad was Amber's relationship with her fellow deployed members.

"At the end of the day, I had creases around the edge of my mouth because I was smiling and laughing so much," Amber said. "I loved our mission and what we do when we're deployed. But it was the people who made it.

"I tried not to think about being away from my family. The more you think about it, the more you miss them, and the slower your time goes. I know I miss [my family]; I love them to death and can never be without them. But the more I sit there and think how much I miss them, I get to where I can't breathe. It gets harder and just makes your time go by so slowly."

Nearly halfway through her first 24 hours home, Amber tucked each child into bed. Caira, who had held back much of the day as her three brothers competed for the maternal attention they'd missed for the past four months, held onto her mother's hand as she kissed her good night.

It was the little things Amber missed the most--cooking for and with her family, the talks with her husband, good-natured teasing and roughhousing with her little ones, the good night kisses. It was good to be home, and she didn't need or care for a transition from the desert back to family life.

"I just jump right back into it," she said. "I don't have time to think about what was over there to now. I've just got to get back into the mix of being a mom and a wife as fast as I can. I'm looking forward to relaxing and not doing much of anything except get back into my routine and taking in every minute of their craziness and the fun of watching them be them."

The next morning, Amber left the house just before the children began getting ready for school. The family's looking forward to a holiday trip home to Wisconsin, but otherwise the self-proclaimed "simple girl" is just relishing being home. For Amber, her homecoming didn't need a special night out at a fancy restaurant, an expensive vacation or other major outing. Being home, especially in those first 24 hours, was the event.
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Title Annotation:Security Forces Squadron member Amber Boyd
Author:Roughton, Randy
Publication:Airman
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Dec 1, 2011
Words:1345
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