By Greg Bishop/Illinois Radio Network
CHICAGO – Ten Illinois soldiers who are part of the Chicago-based 633rd Theater Gateway Personnel Accountability Team are back home for the holidays after serving overseas for nine months and they’re looking to catch up on lost time with their families.
Half landed in Chicago mid-day Wednesday. The other half arrived in Springfield.
It was Sgt. 1st Class Heather Miller’s first deployment after serving for 17 years. Her job in Kuwait was to process everyone who came in and out of central command.
“We’re the first stop and the last stop,” Miller said. “So we’re the face they see leaving theater and coming into theaters.”
The 10 soldiers were in Kuwait to help process 80,000 military personnel, Department of Defense civilians and contractors who were deployed to and from the Central Command area. They also supervised more than 500 troop movements, including more than 3,300 buses and baggage trucks, according to a news release.
Miller said while many may honor the soldiers returning, they should also remember the families that sacrifice waiting for their loved ones.
“Like my husband,” Miller said. “For nine months, [he] was mom and dad and a lot of soldiers’ family members do that as well, so that’s very important to not only remember the soldiers but their families at home as well.”
Healther’s husband Scott said he and their two young children did what they could to make the time go by.
“We just tried to stay busy,” he said. “We ran around and I just tried to keep their mind off it as much as I could and when the topic came up, we discussed it and they understood.”
Heather said she’s ready to focus on the family, cook and celebrate a late Thanksgiving. She also plans to get some Christmas shopping done with her mom.
Sgt. Kirsten Rodriguez said it’s surreal to be back.
“I feel a little weird,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a surreal feeling being home but I enjoyed being over there 100 percent and then being back home is a lot better being back home than there.”
Kirsten’s father, Rey Rodriguez, said the family is proud she achieved sergeant and served the country, but there were apprehensions when the 22-year-old decided to join the service.
“I was proud of her,” Rey said. “Her mom on the opposite was kind of concerned about that but our kids are able to make their own decisions, and that’s what she wanted to do and follow her heart and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Kirsten, who will take the month off before focusing on school to become a veterinarian, said the service is a great choice for young people.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Kirsten said. “I don’t regret anything. It was a good deployment. I mean even you do get deployed, sometimes you don’t and you do your job and you’re out of the service and you get all of the benefits and it’s really good.”
Kirsten said she’s ready for a big family Christmas and to get back visiting with family.
The soldiers hail from Mode, Edinburg, Havana, Springfield, Gurnee and Chicago.