Big Deployment Is Coming Home


Front Page / Dec. 16, 2010 12:53pm EST

By Sandy Vondrasek

Laura Harrington kisses her husband Jess after being apart for 11 months while he was serving with the Vermont National Guard in Afghanistan. Laura, of Whitehall, N.Y., got word yesterday that Jess would be in Burlington that night. (Herald / Zach Nelson)Laura Harrington kisses her husband Jess after being apart for 11 months while he was serving with the Vermont National Guard in Afghanistan. Laura, of Whitehall, N.Y., got word yesterday that Jess would be in Burlington that night. (Herald / Zach Nelson)

Welcome home, soldier.

Perhaps half of the 1500 Vermont National Guard soldiers who shipped out to Afghanistan early in 2010 are safely back, arriving at the National Guard Air Base in Colchester in planeloads of 80 to 180 soldiers over the past few weeks. The balance of the deployment—the Vermont Guard’s largest since WWII—will be home in the next week.

"My son came in yesterday, thank God," said Douglas Lunna of Bethel on Tuesday.

Sgt. Alan Lunna, 30, spent much of his deployment "at small outposts, some of them extremely small" his dad said. His duties, which at times involved helping to build outposts or other structures, posed regular danger.

For his part, Sgt. Lunna is eagerly awaiting the return of another soldier, his wife SPC Kim Lunna, a member of the Vermont National Guard, who also spent the last year in Afghanistan.

However, the Lunnas, married less than two years ago, didn’t get to see each other while there, as they were in different units. They did talk a couple times a week by cell phone, the elder Lunna explained this week.

With the tough year over, they are making plans for the honeymoon they never got to take when they got married, he said.

Long Road

For the soldiers, the route back to Vermont is often circuitous, tiring, and sometimes bitterly cold.

Sgt. Loretta Stalnaker of Randolph, who returned Saturday, said she traveled from her base in northern Afghanistan, south to Bagram Air Base, and then north to a base in Kurdistan. Soldiers were there a couple of days, Stalnaker said, and it was frigid. As it turns out, so was their next stop, Camp Atterbury in Indiana, where all soldiers are spending five or so days getting debriefed, medically screened, and the like.

Just about all of Stalnaker’s extended family—including a brother- and sister-in-law who flew in from Oregon especially for the event—were there to greet her when she flew in with another 130 soldiers Saturday.

Her immediate plans, she said, include a lot of "laying low," relaxing with the family at home. Stalnaker, a member of the Randolph Police Department, said she’ll return to work in January.

Ready To Roll

Soldiers’ families don’t get a lot of advance notice as to exactly when their loved ones will fly in, but most are doing what they can to make sure they’ll be free to travel when the word comes.

Seventeen family members made it up to the National Guard’s Aviation Support Facility Saturday to welcome home Sgt. Ryan Jarvis of Braintree.

Marti Neas of Brookfield, whose brother-in--law Ken Neas is coming home this week, said the family had contemplated renting a limousine for the trip home.

But after the return date kept changing they jettisoned the plan.

"You can’t hire a limo at the last moment," she said.

Another 300 soldiers, a number of them Central Vermonters, are scheduled to land at the Air Guard base today, Thursday.

Among them will be PFC Kevin Bent, 22, of Braintree.

Marlene Bent was in Randolph yesterday to pick up supplies to make a welcome home poster for her stepson. Bent’s father, Laurence, won’t be able to be there for the welcome due to work, but Marlene said she is traveling up with Kevin’s mom and brother.

Kevin, a mechanic, spent his time at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, she said.

Kevin Bent’s older stepbrother, Chris Haggett of Lyndonville, an RUHS graduate, was also deployed to Afghanistan for the past year. Haggett returned a few days ago, and he and wife and children are heading off to Disney World tomorrow, Marlene Bent said.

Young PFC Bent, like many soldiers, isn’t seeking any big hoopla on his return: "He just wants to be home and spend time with family and friends and hug his kids," Marlene Bent said.

Also itching to head out the door to greet their soldier son are Pat and Stubb Sherman of Waterbury. Sgt. Kevin Sherman, 44, of Royalton, was also at Camp Phoenix, where he was in charge of 28 other mechanics. Sgt. Sherman, a full-time Guard employee, was on his second deployment to the Mideast, said his mom.

"We haven’t seem him since last Christmas, said Pat Sherman.

Not physically, but thanks to a lucky raffle ticket (Pat won a laptop with a video camera) the Shermans were able over the past year to see and talk with their son via the Skype application.

Despite the good communications, there will be some tough catching up to do. Pat’s father died last week.

"I feel so bad for Kevin: he wasn’t able to come home," Pat commented. "Things like that happen when people are gone."

Sgt. Sherman has put in one special request for mom, and she is at work on that one—his favorite "butter and (maple) sugar" pie.

"He said I’ve got to make two: ‘One for everybody else, and one for me.’"

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