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Make it count: Part One of a glimpse at how deployed soldiers choose to spend the only two weeks they will get with their families all year

DVIDS: Capt. Richard Barker, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shane Gingrich, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, his wife Christina and their daughters pose for a picture with their new baby girl. Shane, who is deployed to Afghanistan, planned his two weeks of rest and relaxation so that he could be home for the birth of his daughter.
 (Photo courtesy of Christina Gingrich)

Regardless of a 25th Combat Aviation Brigade soldier’s job and responsibilities, one thing is true for all; life is not easy. Sure deployed life may be better for some than others, but all soldiers share the common ground of being separated from important things in their lives while deployed to Afghanistan.

Perhaps this is why from the day soldiers arrive in theater they begin counting down the days until they can momentarily return to a normal life; the day they can go on Rest and Relaxation. Soldiers and their families experience countless months of separation with the promise of only two weeks out of the year afforded to them to spend together. For some, this allows months of planning in order to ensure those two weeks count.

It is no wonder then the R&R stories families of the 25th CAB choose to share are each a gem. As a whole, they are stories that encompass the circle of life. They are stories so tender that as a collection they deserve the title, “Chicken Soup for the 25th CABs Soul.” Here are a few of those stories

New Life

These first stories are about the creation of new life.

Spc. Shawn Knaus, with Company D, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th CAB, was scheduled to meet his wife Sara on R&R just in time for the birth of their fifth child. Sara, however, started experiencing contractions early; too early. The contractions lasted for eleven days although they were all non-productive. On the 12th day, Shawn flew home.

“I picked my husband up at the airport and went into labor that night. We guess she was just waiting for her daddy,” said Sara. In another story, one baby almost came too late to meet her father.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shane Gingrich, with Company B, 3-25 CAB, and his wife Christina had planned R&R perfectly so that Shane could be by Christina’s side for the birth of their third child. “My original due date was Aug. 9th, and my husband was home by Aug. 4th so we thought ‘perfect’,” said Christina. “But the 9th came and went and no baby.”

Christina did all the right things to coax the baby out. She stayed active and enjoyed R&R with Shawn and their two older girls. “We stayed busy; went swimming, walked around town and even went to Six Flags,” said Christina. “No roller coasters, but lots of walking, and still no baby.”

As the end of Shawn’s R&R approached, Shawn and Christina made the decision to induce labor so that Shawn could meet his new baby girl. She was born one day before Shawn had to return to Afghanistan.

“I said goodbye to him at the hospital and my parents took him to the airport,” said Christina. “Watching him leave while still recovering in a hospital room was terribly hard and sad, but I'm so grateful that he was able to meet baby Naomi while home on leave.”

Renewed Bonds

For others, R&R was a time to celebrate and renew their strong family bonds. Some celebrations went to the extreme.

Enter Amanda Cave, wife of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Cave with Company A, 3-25 AVN, 25th CAB. Amanda put time and energy into ensuing Jason would have an R&R he would never forget.

For a while, Jason and Amanda had been trying to find the right time to celebrate their more than 10 years of marriage by renewing their wedding vows. After several failed attempts to find the best time due to a busy schedule leading up to deployment, they decided renewing during R&R would be perfect.

The vow renewal was the part Jason knew about, but Amanda had more in store.

“I was in contact with his parents and had a little something in mind,” said Amanda.

To give a little more background; Jason's father had suffered a mild stroke during the deployment and Jason was both worried and sad that he would not have time to visit his father in person. “[His parents] would fly out and we would surprise him before our vow renewal,” said Amanda.

The surprise was elaborate.

Amanda and her mother-in-law spent weeks planning the details of the surprise. The day Jason’s parents arrived; Amanda left Jason with the children, picked up his parents, and headed out to rehearse the details of their surprise.

“I ran home and got ready to go take the kids to Dave and Busters with my husband for what he thought was a special treat for the kids,” said Amanda. “When we arrived, I acted as if we were checking out the car there on display, when all of a sudden music came on and two of my friends started to dance.”

Amanda had organized a flash mob, and unknown to Jason, his mother was their dancing in the middle of the crowd.

“His face was awesome. He had no clue what was going on. Then I jumped up and joined in,” she said. “Our daughter noticed that her grandma was in the group of dancers.”

She told him, “Daddy that's your mom.” Jason was still looking at Amanda and responded, “yeah that's your mom.” His daughter laughed, took Jason’s face in her hand and pointed in the other direction saying, “No, that's YOUR mom!"

“A few seconds later the crowd parted and there she was, dancing right along with us,” said Amanda. “The song then ended and the crowd broke up and standing off to the side was his dad.”

“I have seen a lot of the different faces on my husband over the years, but the face I saw in that instant was one of the best. The hugs and smiles that day were worth every moment of planning.” The next day Jason and Amanda renewed their wedding vows in front of friends, family, and, thanks to Amanda’s planning, Jason’s mom and dad.

“It is by far one of the best R&R's we have ever shared and one that we will remember for years to come,” said Amanda.

The theme of surprise and bonds continues into this next story. This time the soldier had the upper hand.

Holly Pierce, wife of Staff Sgt. Nathan Pierce with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 25th AVN, 25th CAB, was in a panic. Nathan’s R&R dates had changed two times, and now with a sudden third change he was coming home in early April, only she was not there.

“My daughters and I were in Florida for my sister’s wedding at that time,” said Holly. She spent most of her trip stressing that she would not arrive home before her husband.

“I didn't want to miss days, hours, or even minutes with him. I was on the phone with every airline trying to get a different flight home before him. I was able to get the change fees waived, but not a single ticket for the three of us under $3,400.”

Nathan was then delayed in Afghanistan for an extra day resulting in a cascade of events that made the timing work out in their favor. Nathan was on schedule to arrive in Los Angeles about 45 minutes after the flight carrying Holly and their two daughters would arrive in Las Vegas. She and the children were on schedule to arrive in Hawaii a little more than an hour before Nathan. To make the event even better, the children had no idea their “daddy” was coming home.

“We had a little over a two hour layover in Vegas when I received a phone call from [my husband] and we talked for a few minutes,” said Holly. “He told me he was going to grab a bite to eat and would call me before we boarded.”

It was at this time that Holly’s youngest daughter, aged 2, began to run around a corner causing Holly to chase after her.

“I stood up to go get her when she suddenly stopped, looking confused and smiling,” explained Holly. “Then as I rounded the corner, there stood my husband.”

Nathan had managed to change his flight out of Atlanta so that he arrived in Las Vegas instead of Las Angeles. He was also booked on the same flight from Las Vegas to Hawaii as his family.

“Made for TV reaction is an understatement,” said Holly. “The whole thing is a little bit of a blur because I was in shock. My husband said he was temporarily deaf from all of my screaming.” At the gate, the airline cooperated and was able to get the entire family seated together.

“I hit a JACKPOT in Las Vegas and never had to spend a dime,” said Holly.

While home Nathan was able to celebrate his younger daughter’s third birthday and with Holly they celebrated 12 years of marriage by renewing their wedding vows on Waikiki Beach.

To top things off, Nathan was bumped from his return flight to Afghanistan and was able to spend one extra night with his family. “After an overly tearful goodbye, needless to say, Las Vegas will always be a special place for us,” said Holly.

Not all families have as much control over the events in their lives as the families above. Watch for the second part of this story that takes a look into the strength, adventures, and new beginnings of other 25th CAB families.

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