2 local families mark special homecoming
The popular Christmas song, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," will have special poignancy for two Marshall families this year.
Ryan Martin, son of Kevin and Joyce Martin, and Sarah Dunham, daughter of Jack and Denise Dunham, arrived in Independence Monday afternoon, Dec. 22, after a one-year deployment with the U.S. Army Reserve in Afghanistan. Martin and Dunham served with the 455th Medical Detachment.
A welcome reception for their unit was held at the Truman Library in Independence on Tuesday afternoon.
There is a special bond between these two families beyond the military service of their children -- Ryan is married to Sara's sister, Alanna Dunham-Martin.
The two were married at the courthouse shortly before Martin's deployment in October 2007.
Ryan's father, Kevin Martin, said in a phone conversation Monday afternoon that he wasn't sure they'd really make it home for the holiday.
"I was kind of skeptical they'd have (them) home for Christmas," he said, citing the recently announced increase in troops being assigned to Afghanistan.
"But we're thrilled … he's coming home."
Kevin said Alanna was counting the days and hours while she baked cookies at the Martin home on Sunday.
"'One day and 18 hours … one day and 17 hours' … she was counting all through the day," he said.
Jack Dunham, Sarah's and Alanna's father, said he and his wife, Denise, were worried all the time for the health and safety of both soldiers.
"We prayed to God that everything would be okay, and he brought (them) through."
Jack said that as far as he knows, neither of the two had any really close calls, but recalled an incident when he was talking to his daughter on her cell phone.
"She was in a place -- I didn't know until later -- that they nicknamed ... 'Rocket City' because of all the rocket attacks -- and she said she had to hang up and go put all of her body armor on, just in case. She didn't get any closer than that, at least not that she told me about," he said.
"Sarah hasn't been home on her birthday in two years," he said. "She turned 19 while she was in basic training, 20 while she was in Afghanistan -- this year, she'll be home for that day."
Dunham said he's already seen some changes in his daughter.
"We're getting closer," he said. "We had our (difficult) times, when she was a teenager, but with a little more maturity on her part and a little more understanding on my part, we're getting closer."
"When Sarah had her two-week leave, she said, 'I don't really want to come back to Marshall -- I want to see (some of) the world,' so we flew down to Australia to meet her."
"I thank God she made it through and didn't get hurt," he added.
Alanna Dunham-Martin said the first thing she's going to do when she sees her husband is "squeeze his neck -- I missed him so much."
They last saw each other in October, when Ryan was home for a two-week leave.
"We were able to get on the phone (and) talk almost every day unless he was out in the field," she said.
"Basic training was actually worse than this," she said. "We could talk only about five minutes on Sunday … and if I missed that call, it was the worst thing."
This is her "best Christmas ever," she said. "I don't want anything else but for him to come home." And high on the priority list for Ryan and Alanna is to have the wedding they missed last October.
"We haven't had the (formal) wedding yet," said Dunham-Martin. "I've already picked out my dress -- it's so pretty. But I'm not showing it to anybody but my mom and my bridesmaids."
It won't be long before the dress makes its debut, though. A beach wedding in Destin, Fla., is being planned for July.
Ryan and Alanna have been together for a long time. "We were high school sweethearts," she said. "I knew from the minute we got together, he was the one."
Also high on the priority list for Ryan and Alanna is to continue their educations.
Ryan has only 30 hours or so to finish a Bachelor of Science degree in food science and expects to pursue a master's program; Alanna, a graduate of State Fair Community College with an associate degree in radiology, plans to enter the field of nuclear medicine. School starts again on Jan. 10.
Sarah's plans are a little less concrete than that. She's interested in following in Ryan's footsteps, maybe pursuing a career in food science.
Her father said, "She's going to be looking at going to college, getting her life together, getting a job, a car … she has another 4-1/2 year commitment to the military, too."
For now, though, just being home, especially for Christmas, is probably enough to think about for all of them.
Note: SSG Martin's awards for the tour: Meritorious Service Medal, NATO Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. SPC Dunham's awards for the tour: Army Achievement Medal, NATO Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal.