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Mission Afghanistan: Break from the battlefield - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Mission Afghanistan: Break from the battlefield

Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan - November 10, 2010

Sgt. Itzia Hemingway packs for a trip that will take her halfway around the world.

"Oh yeah," she laughed, "I'm going home on leave tomorrow!"

And back to her family in Vermont.

"It's time to go home. It really is," Hemingway said. "You get to the point where you miss your old routines."

Hemingway is stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. She was among the first Vermont Guard soldiers to deploy to the war zone.

"I just want to hold my kids and tell them that I love them and how much it means to me to be home," she said.

But her visit will be brief-- just over two weeks. She's heading home on leave, called rest and recuperation or R & R; the only break our soldiers get during their yearlong Mission in Afghanistan. And Hemingway is ready.

"I went through a rough time, a pretty serious... I started feeling lonely and very distant," she said.

Hemingway says her tour has taken its toll emotionally. The stress of war, the loss of soldiers she knew, the separation from family, and the desperation she's witnessed in Afghanistan have been hard to bear.

"We get care packages all the time and I didn't realize how much those meant until I started seeing soldiers get mail. Then I got mail. It's um... you definitely have to appreciate what your soldiers are doing," she said. "I am definitely blessed. I have two wonderful children. Being here has taught me a lot. What people suffer here is incredible. It is unfair and unfortunate. I am definitely lucky. I don't have to experience what these people experience."

Hemingway sought counseling at Bagram to help her cope. And her kids sent her their favorite stuffed animals to keep her company.

"I sleep with them every night," she said. "It's how I get cozy and brings me a little comfort from home. It has gotten pretty lonely here. Very lonely."

It's been tough on Sgt. Hemingway's family, too.  Her 5-year-old son, Antonio, struggled during the deployment at first, refusing to talk to his mom when she'd call home.

"I hope my son never felt like I abandoned him or that I didn't love him," she said.

But news of his mother's return has turned things around.

"He is coming to the understanding I am coming home and that's exciting. He was really hurting and longing for mommy," Hemingway said.

Sgt. Raymond Cheney knows the importance of R & R. We caught up with him just as the Williamstown man returned to Kabul. His trip home was timed perfectly.

"The baby decided to come out early so it was a blessing for me," he said. "He was 8 pounds, 8 ounces."

Cheney got to witness the birth of his third child.

Reporter Darren Perron: Was it pretty special this happened while you were home?

Sgt. Raymond Cheney: Yes. You take a chance with every pregnancy that you might not be able to be there. With this one, we got lucky.

Soldiers get to pick where they go on R & R. The military offers free flights to nearly anywhere in the world. Most go home. But some say leaving for a second time is too tough on them and their families. So, they vacation elsewhere. But for Cheney it was an easy decision.

"It was a chance for me to see my family-- to see everybody I missed," he said. "Yes, we have modern technology but it's not the same as hugging your wife after being gone for seven months or to have your son run to the airport and grab you and say there's my dad."

Staff Sgt. Anita Austin of St. Albans arrived back in Afghanistan at the same time as Cheney and echoed the importance of soldiers getting a break from war.

"Granted, you're only going back for 15 days. But it is a chance to reconnect," she said. "You come back over and finish doing what you had to do."

"It takes a lot for a spouse to stay back home with the kids and the house. I know firsthand," Hemingway said. "So, I'm definitely appreciative."

Sgt. Hemingway's husband, Robby, is an Iraq War vet. She hopes their service to the country means their children won't have to make the same sacrifices.

"I did this. Robby did it. Hopefully so our kids don't have to come here 20 years later and do it all over again," she said.

Darren Perron - WCAX News

Related Stories:

Guard kids cope with deployment

Sgt. Hemingway: 'Mission going well'

Guard Families Brace for Deployment

Focus on Vt. Guard Families

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