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March 5, 2011

Reporter's Notebook: Soldiers, families reunited

Daily Star

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It was a joyful homecoming for members of the New York Army National Guard's 827th Engineering Company, returning to their Walton armory in February.

Members had been away for about a year, including about 10 months in Afghanistan. Paul Mann of Meridale was waiting for the return of his stepdaughter Dana Tompkins.

This is her first deployment, and she called two to three times a week.

Cards from care packages from several groups are a "godsend," he said.

"It's been hardest on her mother," he said. "They have been very close."

A number of family members were going to his house that night for a get-together to welcome her home, he said.

Every time there was news about the soldiers while she was away, "it made you hold your breath," he said.

She is 22 and enlisted in the National Guard right out of Delhi high school, he said.

Her brother, Austin Tompkins, said he is proud of her. Hearing her on the phone made it "a little easier" having her away.

When he got to see her, he said, he planned to tell her that he missed her and how glad he was that she was back home.

Kelly Gladstone of Hamden was waiting for her boyfriend, Paul Gray. The hardest part has been living by herself, she said.

The year has been "one of the longest ones of my life," she said. When asked what she will do when she sees him, she said, "probably just tackle him."

She said of his service, "I think it's awesome," but "I hope he doesn't have to do it again."

Also at the scene was Bob Brown, who retired five years ago as the first sergeant of the unit, but he still wants to see them come home.

"I know a lot of them," he said. This is the second homecoming he has been at, including one in 2005.

When they got out of the bus, Staff Sgt. Thad Bull said although the year went by somewhat fast, he missed his family, including wife, Ruby, daughters Elaina, 4, and Dorothy, 3, and son Raymond, 2. He also missed cold milk, he said.

Ruby said, "I just want to go home and feed him."

Mark Boshnack can be reached at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000, ext. 218, or at