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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore Year

Surprise Christmas Gift from Iraq

Samantha Strub

(Feb 2011) This Christmas brought an unexpected surprise coming all the way from Iraq! My family got the best gift that we could have asked for, my Dad, Major Matthew Strub, home for the holidays! Most military families are not that lucky, so I wouldnít call it anything else than a miracle! We werenít expecting him for at least another two weeks, but the army sent him home early for his two-week leave. It was a pleasant blessing that we were able to spend the holidays together as a family.

I have been an army brat my whole life and have grown up with great patriotism for my country, seeing my father devote himself to its service. My Dad made the military his career right after college. The army paid for his schooling, and he worked just part time before deciding that he wanted to devote his life to the military.

Major Strub is the Facility Commander in West Bend, Wisconsin. In this position he oversees the facilityís daily functions. He oversees aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, and aircrew members. He has 35 full-time people working for him and 150 part- time people. Where handles the budget, checks the progress of goals for the facility, manages flight instruction, reviews work performance, counsels employees, and interacts with public leaders and the community. He is also part time with the National Guard for which he flies helicopters to take care of emergenciesóstate and local, man-made and natural--like Hurricane Katrina.

In Iraq, Major Strub is the F-3 and a Blackhawk pilot for the 1-147th Aviation Battalion in Madison, Wisconsin, which makes him in charge of the training for the 400 member battalion for missions. Making sure they are trained up and mission ready. The 1-147th Aviation Battalion are serving their country in their year-long deployment to Iraq. All of the members of my Dadís unit are doing this because they believe in protecting the freedom of our country. They are doing their jobs with incredible passion and dedication, knowing they are making a difference in the lives of others by transporting troops supplies and VIPís around Iraq.

Every deployment the soldiers get a two-week leave during the year. My Dadís was supposed to be toward the end of January; however by some miracle it got moved up. When the news came, everyone was overjoyed because this meant that we were able to spend Christmas as a family! The two weeks that we spent together made the six months of deployment seem irrelevant compared to being together again, and they helped us realize that this deployment will be over soon.

Though we spent two weeks together I think the high point was picking him up at the airport after not seeing him for six months. It normally takes about 40 minutes to get to the Milwaukee airport from my house, but we left to pick up Dad almost an hour and a half early. I think Mom was just a little bit excited to get him home. After almost missing a turn and taking two parking spots because Mom didnít have the care or patience to fix her hurried parking job, we power walked through the airport doors, looking for the boards to see if he had landed yet. Of course, it was about 30 minutes before his flight was supposed to land. That didnít matter for my Mother though. She still found it necessary to power walk through the airport, stopping at Starbucks to try and settle her nerves, and then standing toward the back as she waited for him to walk out. We still had about a 15-minute wait, but it seemed like much longer as my Mom and siblings moved closer and closer, not being able to stand still or look away for fear of missing him. I sat back and took pictures, knowing this was something that we would remember for years to come. The moment we saw Dad walk around the corner, my Mom ran toward him, right past security! This would normally be a problem, but everyone around us figured out what was going on, as Dad was dressed in his uniform. They looked on smiling, watching the simple moment of a husband and wife kissing for the first time in six months, followed by hugs and kisses for everyone else. It was a moment that we will remember to help us make it through the rest of the deployment.

Once everyone got over the excitement, we settled back to enjoy the two weeks we had before he had to go back. Some of the family had big plans about what to do, while others were just content to relax. It ended up being a lovely mixture of the two. We went out to dinner, had wonderful home-cooked meals, went ice skating and skiing, and held family game and movie nights and Wii competitions.

My favorite memories were the Wii competitions and skiing. My brother Nick got a Wii game for Christmas, and it became an instant hit with the family, especially when we got the Mario Kart racing game. We tried so hard to unlock all of the tracks so we could spend even more time with this emotional game. That sounds kind of strange to think that a video game can be emotional but it really can be. Whether you are winning or losing, you scream at the TV screen as you play, somehow thinking that will help you get into a better position. Or if you are in 1st place, everyone gangs up on you trying to make you run off the track or die. Needless to say, many times the house became incredibly loud from all of us yelling at a video game.

Skiing is a favorite pastime in my house. We have all been pretty big skiers. My two brothers and younger sister are on ski teams and participate in downhill races. My parents and I just enjoy the sport. However, we all went out to the ski hill by my house about four times the two weeks that Dad was home. We all had a blast, but I would have to say that one of the best times was when just my Dad, my brother Nick, and I went skiing. Somehow we all had the same size for our boot binds, give or take an inch, and so we were able to switch skis throughout the night. The part that wasnít fun was that my brother and my Dad decided that it would be amusing to see me try skis that were too tall for me. That ended up being a disaster--so much for going the whole time without falling. They enjoyed watching and teasing me a little bit too much as I tried to control those skis. However, the laughs and memories made it all worthwhile.

A very memorable two weeks away from the stress in our lives to spend time together as a family over the Christmas season. Who could have asked for a better gift!

Read past editions of Samantha Strub's Four Years at the Mount