Fathers return home for Fourth

Kenny Smith and Kerry Gould know the cost of independence. They both paid the price by giving up theirs to spend one year in different parts of the Middle East. For the two men, independence costs time watching their sons play ball and time spent relaxing with their wives – sacrifices that make fireworks and hot dogs more significant this year.

“They left a year ago this Thursday – July 3,” Barbara Smith said. “We are definitely going to do something this Fourth of July. Last Fourth of July I actually mustered myself up to take the boys to see some fireworks, but the rest of the day I spent in bed crying.”

Although Smith has spent almost 20 years with the Army National Guard, this was his first overseas deployment. Smith worked as a member of a convoy escort unit. It only took his first mission out to impress on him the seriousness of his work.

“We were coming back and one of our trucks had a flat tire. The rest of the convoy went on ahead and just a little later we saw smoke go up and they called back that they had been hit by an IED,” he said. “We got there and was watching the truck burning and it exploded again. It was just getting dark, too, and that’s when, that’s when it hit me.”

Smith still intently watches the shoulders of the interstate for torn pieces of tire and plastic containers – anything that could be an improvised explosion device.

Kerry Gould knows that feeling. He returned to the states from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in early May and still finds his senses heightened.

“You get back and you wake up in a panic wondering where your gun is,” Gould said. “You’re supposed to have it within arms reach at all times. There is just a lot less responsibility here than I had in my job there.”

The National Guard sent Gould to act as a mentor to the Afghan National Army. He ended up patrolling the area intercepting what he called “border thugs.” Gould said he had guns pointed in his direction many times but that wasn’t what fazed him.

“Their culture is different,” Gould said. “They might accidentally kill someone and just go on about business. That didn’t scare me. What scared me were the roadside bombs that you couldn’t see.”

Gould spent one year with his boots on the ground in Afghanistan — a year that altered his family’s life.

“My 6 year old would wonder why his daddy wasn’t there to play with him like the other dads,” Gould said. “He didn’t understand it. He just knew I wore a uniform and went away for a long time.”

Smith’s youngest son, Owen, even carried around a daddy doll designed in his dad’s likeness.

Smith looked more solemn when explaining that being away from his wife and sons was the worst part of the experience.

“I’d call home and she’d say ‘Well, they had practice tonight,’ and I felt like I should have been there,” Smith said. “It was just the little things that you miss so much,” Smith said.

One thing did make it easier for Gould.

Three months before the deployment, Gould took a job with Verizon Wireless and although the government requires employers to reserve positions for National Guard members sent into combat, Gould said Verizon went out of its way continuing to pay a portion of his salary, keeping up insurance on his wife and son and even contributing to his 401 K.

“It took a lot of strain off of me,” Gould said. “That was really awkward having to deploy so quickly, but other companies would not have done this. It gives me a higher sense of loyalty.”

Now the men are trying to settle back into daily life, going to work and to sleep on U.S. time. Some things linger, though, like the clock hanging in the Smith’s home that still reads Iraq time, as reminders of their sacrifice.