A warm welcome home
As Major Jim Parkinson's black Honda Odyssey rounded 203rd Street W. in Farmington, a murmur stirred through the waiting, hidden crowd gathered on Erickson Path last Friday.
By the time his car reached the intersection, the murmur had swelled into a robust cheer and the crowd of about 150, which had patiently, courteously waited on the curbs suddenly rushed into the street, surrounding the car.
Maj. Parkinson was finally home.
Parkinson had been away for 13 months, serving with the U.S. Army as a logistics officer assigned to the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
Military members and their equipment enter Kuwait for required training prior to their deployment into Iraq. Once their training is complete, the 1st TSC moves the equipment and personnel to their assigned bases in Iraq.
Parkinson gave his wife, Kelly, a Farmington school bus driver, a chiding look. He had told her he did not want any big welcome home parties. But then he broke into a grin and a wave as friends he hadn't seen since last April crowded around to shake his hand or hug his neck.
"We're just so happy to have him home," said neighbor Cindy Gruver. She and her husband, Dave, pitched in to help Kelly with child care and maintenance while Jim was gone.
"I'm just so happy to have the family reunited again," said Cindy Farthing, piano teacher for the Parkinson kids. "It's been a long year."
The car inched slowly through the throng of people who were waving flags and holding welcome home signs. The Parkinsons's son, Cody, 8, popped up through the sun roof to wave and their daughter, Halley, 7, swished a small American flag out the window.
"This was so unexpected," Jim said. "I was so excited to be home."
Gary Ball, who described himself as the neighbor with the orange snow blower and a former U.S. Navy man, pushed through to Jim's window, holding up a bottle of wine.
"When they go on a mission, they always have wine," he explained. "This is part of their ritual. On the day he left, I said we'd crack this open and celebrate his homecoming."
Another friend, Jill Buysse, held the family's big, furry dog, Yankee Doodle, who strained at his leash to get to Jim.
As Jim neared his driveway, he saw that the neighbors had not been idle while they had waited. Sidewalk chalk drawings covered his asphalt driveway -- pictures of soldiers in uniform, American flags and more words of welcome. Banners hung from his porch and flags decorated his yard. Kelly had hung "Major Watch" signs in her window announcing the time of his arrival since she did not know until hours before exactly when his plane would come in.
As he got out of his car, the crowd stepped aside to allow three uniformed men from the Farmington chapter of VFW Post 7662 through.
They shook hands and congratulated him on a job well done.
"It's a good feeling," said Ron Ersfeld, one of the VFW representatives and Korean War vet of the homecoming. "We've all been there."
"It's great to be home," Jim said to his well wishers. "The morale has been so good over there," he said of his Kuwait unit. "It's because America is supporting us. There are a lot of brave young men and women still over there. I just wish every soldier could have a welcome like this."
Since 9/11 there have been 9,869 Minnesota National Guard members deployed. More than 1,200 are currently deployed.