The homecoming event for eight veterans sponsored by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars on Saturday at VFW Post 6948 was as much a celebration of military families as the personnel themselves … or at least that is the way Air Force Master Sgt. James Schlehuber looked at it.
“The real heroes are the people at home,” he said.
Schlehuber has served five tours in Iraq with an air control squad. His job is to make sure air traffic control can communicate with pilots and that soldiers on the ground have a clear message of their direction. He also helps establish air supply missions and air-to-air refueling.
“It’s most of what we do,” Schlehuber said of air-to-air refueling.
While he was serving overseas, Schlehuber’s wife Heather was raising the couple’s five children in Marion. Their oldest child Elise is 10, and the youngest is Sam, who just turned 1.
“She’s got a house full,” Schlehuber said.
While Schlehuber works as the “911 operator” for Iraq, as Army and Marine guys say of their operation, Heather Schlehuber is dealing with household emergencies like a broken refrigerator.
“I’ve missed a lot of birthdays,” Schlehuber said. “I’ve missed 7 out of the last 11 anniversaries. She has really done a fantastic job of making it easy for me.”
For two other honorees, the Air Force and family are more intertwined. Technical Sgts. Shad and Tracy Winter have both served more than 18 years each in the Air Force. They met in the Air Force and have been married most of that time.
“It’s easier because we understand the military life,” Tracy Winter said of being a married couple in the Air Force. “It’s difficult because we are gone so much.”
Most recently, Tracy Winter served in Kuwait as a recreation center director. At home at Fort Riley, she works in food service.
Shad Winter served in Afghanistan with the Joint Visitors Bureau under the command of Gen. David Petraeus. Winter is part of a task force that provides security for all visiting dignitaries. The list of officials he has protected includes four-star generals, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden.
The couple has three boys together — Cody, 12; Justin, 10; and Austin, 4 — and has a girl on the way. While the children have never had to live in other countries, there have been some unplanned side effects of a military life style.
At the American Legion ceremony, Cody was wearing a black and gold University of Missouri sweatshirt and Justin was wearing a blue and red sweatshirt emblazoned with a Jayhawk. Cody was born in Missouri. At the Missouri vs. Kansas football game, Shad had to sit between the two brothers to keep the border battle on the field. At their home, Cody and Justin have rooms on different floors.
Schlehuber said the American Legion ceremony was nice because it was good for his children to witness the recognition for military service.
For the Winters, it was their first such ceremony.
“We’ve never had anything like this,” Tracy Winter said.
Also honored at the ceremony were Marine Spc. Tyler Mermis and Army Spc. Josh Fruechting, who will be returning to Afghanistan. Specialists Gerald Helm and Branson Shipman were recognized but did not attend the ceremony.