Last March, hundreds of Connecticut National Guardsmen boarded a plane for the Horn of Africa. For nearly a year, families back home counted the days and hours until their plane would land back on Connecticut soil.
“It was hard. I missed him. His family missed him. I know he missed home. I’m happy that they’re back,” said Susan Way. This was her son Benjamin’s first deployment.
Families waited, knowing that a reunion was finally only minutes away. Way said social media helped keep them connected.
“You have social media now so that was a different component that helped to ease everything, maybe even on his side and our side,” said Way.
And many families found creative ways to connect with loved ones on the other side of the world.
“Cardboard Sergei has been adventuring with us the entire year so we’ve had lots of adventures,” said Renee Vittone, who was waiting for her twin, First Lt. Sergei Vittone, with a cardboard cutout version of him.
The Vittone family created a replica of their soldier. While the real one worked for Operation Enduring Freedom, the shorter version took time off to enjoy the pool, climb mountains, study to become a nurse and hang out with his cat, Tibby.
“He’s my twin so he’s my other half really. We’re proud of him and can’t wait to see him. And I can’t wait to harass him and bug him again like I have my whole life,” said Vittone.
As more than 130 National Guardsmen walked off the plane Friday night, cheers rang out from the crowd. Hugs, tears and laughter brought families back together. American flags waved and signs expressed how much these men and women have been missed.
And First Lt. Vittone finally got the chance to meet his cardboard doppelganger. Both versions will go skiing this weekend.
“It feels good. It’s a long year. Fun. It was hot. It’s really cold now,” said First Lt. Vittone.
For families, this homecoming brings a flood of emotions, from pride to gratitude to relief that their soldier came home safe.
“We love him. We missed him, and we’re glad he’s safe on American soil,” said Tammy, mom of First Lt. Vittone.
“They’re so selfless, and we really don’t understand what they do out there. They completely left their jobs, left their families, and everything. And as hard as it is for us that they’re away, it’s hard for them. It’s a completely lifechanging thing they do,” said Renee Vittone.
The first group of soldiers from the March deployment arrived back last week. The CT National Guard said the rest of the guardsmen will arrive home in the coming days.