By Elizabeth Rhodes
Last we heard from Brianna Cassel, 29, her husband, Joshua, 31, had just returned unhurt from a yearlong tour of duty with the National Guard in Afghanistan. She said she felt incredibly lucky and proud of Josh, but she wondered how her children would adjust to their dad coming home to Kingfisher, Okla. When he left, their son, Benjamin, was only 2.5 years old and Brianna was four months into a high-risk pregnancy with their daughter, Elizabeth. We spoke with Brianna recently to ask about their new life as a family of four.
Tell us about the day Josh came home.
The homecoming ceremony was held in an airport hanger at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. I made cute outfits for the kids and we brought signs—Benjamin’s sign said, “Picking up my daddy.” We got there at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and after a couple of hours, the huge doors of the hanger swung open, and about 150 soldiers marched in. We honored the 14 soldiers who had been killed on this deployment—they were a huge loss for all of us—and listened to a few speakers before the soldiers were dismissed. It was extremely emotional, but we also wanted to just get out of there and have some family time. That was about a week before my birthday.
So Josh made it home for your birthday?
Yes! While he was still in Afghanistan, he called a local movie theater to get tickets for us to see the Hunger Games because I loved the books. He gave the manager his credit card number, and when the tickets went on sale the manager purchased them for us. We went to see the movie on my birthday, and my mom watched the kids.
How is Josh settling back into life at home?
It’s so true that homecoming is an event, but reintegration is a process. Josh is certainly having some culture shock. He lived in a war zone in a desert where there was always tension, and now he’s home and there’s stuff like television and speed limits. It’s good that he got a few weeks off to adjust before going back to work, because last year changed him. It changed me, too.
What has been the biggest change for you?
I used to live with my phone. I slept at night holding it because I didn’t want to miss even a text message. During the first few days when Josh was back, I couldn’t care less about my phone or going on Facebook! Another adjustment is that, of course, I’m giving up some control. We’ve never been a family of four, and now we’re learning what that means and finding our new normal.
How are your kids adjusting to their dad being around?
It has been better than expected, but that’s because we kept our expectations realistic. I knew Benjamin would be thrilled, but I’ve been the only source of discipline in our home, and I was concerned that he was going to have a little power struggle with Josh. Benjamin does test the boundaries sometimes, but overall it has been very smooth. And Elizabeth wasn’t afraid of Josh, like she is with some strangers. She’s bonding with him really well.
While Josh was away, you said you found support in your Family Readiness Group—the spouses, parents and girlfriends of the soldiers in Josh’s unit. Are you still in touch with them?
Not all of Josh’s company came home at the same time, so we’ve had waves of homecoming ceremonies this spring. Whenever possible, the wives come to the ceremonies, but they all can’t always make it. So we are still in touch, but everybody is splintering off and focusing on their family right now.
Are you worried that Josh will be deployed again?
We don’t think he will go back to Afghanistan, but we do expect him to deploy again, because for that to be a surprise would be too devastating. He is supposed to be non-deployable for the next two years, but I hesitate to even use that word, because I think anything can happen. I expect him home, but I must be prepared for him to go.