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3:42 am
Sat March 9, 2013

Returning From Duty, Finding Families' Embrace

Originally published on Sat March 9, 2013 10:29 am

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the participants in this project have been speaking about being separated from their loved ones.

This week, Weekend Edition is featuring two stories of families reuniting after deployment.

Brothers' Bond

Both of the Radlinski brothers served in the Navy. Luke deployed in 2001 to the Persian Gulf in support of the conflict in Afghanistan. His brother, Mark, went to Iraq in 2006.

But just before Mark left, the two brothers had a fight and parted on bad terms.

"I finally said, 'What am I doing? He's in Iraq, for God's sake,' " Luke recalls.

He sent his brother a long email, and their relationship picked back up.

"And then I went through other personal issues — getting divorced and everything," Luke tells his brother. "And here you were, getting shot at, and helping me out through that time. That meant a lot. And when you came home, that day, if it's not best day ever, it's top five days ever."

But for Mark, getting off the plane felt like both the best and worst day ever.

"You hear all these people clapping for you. I don't want to say you don't feel worthy, but I'm here — 10 fingers, 10 toes, two legs, two arms," he says, "and I felt like I didn't deserve this kind of reception because you left a lot of guys, gals back down range."

It took Mark a couple of months to readjust to civilian life.

"I still remember walking into Banana Republic with fatigues and buying clothes and just being like, '36 hours ago I was jumping on a Black Hawk.' It was just bizarre. It didn't feel like home," he says. "I tell you, for the first three weeks after I got back, I was looking at every opportunity I could find to go back down range."

Luke is very glad his brother did come home.

"That's why I still look back at that day in late March of 2007 and think, best day ever," he says.

Where's Mom?

Chief Warrant Officer Felicia Banks deployed to Iraq in 2005, leaving her two young children behind. Talana is now 9, and her brother, Willie, is 12.

"I remember that morning when I left, it was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I just prayed that we'd be together again," Felicia says.

Willie tells his mother he initially thought she was just running an errand, but then, he says, "I noticed you weren't coming back."

"I probably did a poor job of explaining to you where I was going and what I was up against," Felicia tells her son. "But at your age, you shouldn't have to worry about me. I'm the one that's supposed to worry about you."

Talana is upset her mom did not come back for her two weeks of "rest and relaxation." Felicia thought it would be too disruptive and decided to stay away for the whole year continuously.

When she did finally return, it was a big day.

"I got really excited when I saw you coming toward us. I got the biggest hug in the world," Willie says. "And I didn't know if you were going to leave again or not. I was just happy to see you."

Talana didn't know who her mother was at first.

"I remember the look on your face when you realized who I was. Your eyes got really big, you just started ... hugging me, I think you were choking my neck," Felicia says.

Talana says she's proud of her mother for serving the country, but she prefers having Felicia home.

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Saturday by Yasmina Guerda.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now to check with StoryCorps and the Military Voices Initiative. It's a project that records stories from members of the military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Many of the participants of this project have been speaking about being separated from their loved ones. And today, we bring you two stories of families reuniting after deployment. First, we'll hear from Navy Lieutenant Mark Radlinski and his brother Luke. Mark went to Iraq in 2006, but the two brothers had a fight just before he left and parted on bad terms. Luke begins.

LIEUTENANT LUKE RADLINSKI: I finally said what am I doing? He's in Iraq, for God's sake. Yeah, I sent you a long email, and it just picked back up again.

LIEUTENANT MARK RADLINSKI: Yeah.

RADLINSKI: And then I went through other personal issues - getting divorced and everything. And here you were, getting shot at and helping me out through that time. That meant a lot. And when you came home that day, if it's not best day ever, it's top five days ever.

RADLINSKI: Interesting thing for us coming off the plane, it was a combination of best day ever and worst day ever. You hear all these people clapping for you. I don't want to say you don't feel worthy, but I'm here - 10 fingers, 10 toes, two legs, two arms - and I felt like I didn't deserve this kind of reception because you left a lot of guys, gals back down range.

RADLINSKI: I think it took you a couple of months just to get adjusted.

RADLINSKI: It did. I still remember walking into Banana Republic with fatigues and buying clothes and just being like 36 hours ago I was jumping on a Black Hawk. It was just bizarre. It didn't feel like home. I tell you, for the first three weeks after I got back, I was looking at every opportunity I could find to go back down range.

RADLINSKI: That's the first time I've ever heard that. Like you said, a lot of people didn't come home but you are my brother, so I'm going to go ahead and still be happy that you did. That's why I still look back at that day in late March of 2007 and think: best day ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TALANA BANKS: My name is Talana Banks. I am nine years old.

WILLIE BANKS: My name is Willie. I'm 12.

FELICIA BANKS: My name is Felicia Banks and I am here with my son Willie and my daughter Talana.

BANKS: So, how did it make you feel to leave us for your deployment?

BANKS: Well, I remember that morning when I left, it was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I just prayed that we'd be together again.

BANKS: At first, I thought you were just going to the store or something. But then I noticed you weren't coming back.

BANKS: I probably did a poor job of explaining to you where I was going and what I was up against. But at your age, you shouldn't have to worry about me. I'm the one that's supposed to worry about you.

BANKS: Why did you decide not to come back for a whole year?

BANKS: Are you mad that I didn't come back for a whole year?

BANKS: Yes.

BANKS: All right. They give you two weeks of what they call rest and relaxation. So, for me to come back for two weeks and then leave again, I thought it would just disrupt your lives, so I just decided to stay the whole year and come back at the end. So, when I came back, how did you feel?

BANKS: I got really excited when I saw you coming toward us. And I got the biggest hug in the world. And I didn't know if you were going to leave again or not. I was just happy to see you.

BANKS: You had gotten so big, so I hugged you, I kissed your face. And then, Talana, I saw you.

BANKS: I was confused. I didn't know who you were. And then I'm, like, oh.

BANKS: I remember the look on your face when you realized who I was. Your eyes got really big, you just started hugging me. I think you were choking my neck.

BANKS: Well, I'm proud of you because you're serving our country, but I like when you're home.

BANKS: I like being home. I love you guys.

BANKS: Love you too.

BANKS: You're awesome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: That was Talana Banks, her brother Willie and their mother, Chief Warrant Officer Felicia Banks. Felicia deployed to Iraq in 2005 and had to leave her two young children behind. Today, the Banks' family lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where their interview was recorded. Before that, we heard two brothers, Lieutenant Luke Radlinski and Lieutenant Mark Radlinski. Both served in the Navy. Luke deployed in 2001 to the Persian Gulf in support of the Afghanistan conflict, and Mark went to Iraq in 2006. Their conversation was recorded in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Both these interviews are part of the Military Voices Initiative, and like all StoryCorps recordings, they are archived at the Library of Congress. To get the StoryCorps podcast, go to npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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