BLOOMINGTON (WEEK) - 307 days. That's how long Chief Warrant Officer -2 Lucas G. Miles was away from his 18-month-old daughter and 3-year-old son. "Not that I was counting," he said with a smile hidden under his protective mask. Miles was one of two Illinois Army National Guardsmen to return home Tuesday. First Lieutenant Christopher Wright was also returning from Iraq. Each solder spent 10 months in Iraq, and Miles even some time in Iran. They spent 14 days in quarantine at Fort Hood in Texas before getting on a flight back to Bloomington.
For the two, it could have been a shorter deployment, but a family member said the time overseas was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Miles, it was his third deployment. He spent 4 years on active duty in the Army where he was deployed to Korea and New Orleans. But those came before he had a family of his own. "Super excited to be back with the family. Obviously they're young so I've missed a huge chunk of their life already," he explained.
For Wright, this was his first deployment. "There's no time that goes by when you're not thinking about him, and worried," said an eager father, Ron Wright as he waited for his son to arrive back home.
But neither soldier had anticipated the struggles they would face while in the Middle East. And the struggles their families would face here at home.
"A couple of times he called to say there have been missiles sent through the base. I felt sick to my stomach just with worry, until you hear from them they're okay," explained Beth Miles, Lucas' mother.
Camp Taji in Iraq was attacked on March 10. Those airstrikes left family in the states holding their breath. "You didn't know what was going on, you didn't know if anyone was okay. Or if everybody was okay. You knew nothing," explained Lindsey Wright, sister of Christopher Wright.
"Finally we got word that everything was fine, and those things. So you have nothing, other than to just wait, and that's really hard," said Ron Wright.
And then, in the middle of deployment, a global pandemic started. "Everything seems a little different than when I left. (The pandemic) added a little bit more stress, but everybody was able to get through it," explained CW-2 Miles.
Miles said they took precautions overseas to stop the spread of any potential virus, same as here at home. But as the virus spread, the pressure on family grew. But Beth Miles said Lucas' wife has stepped up to the plate in a big way. "She's been really stoic. She's held it all together," explained Beth Miles.
And as a grandfather, Michael Miles, said it has been tough not being able to help care for their grand kids with dad in Iraq. "We did a lot with the grand kids before. And since then it's been through glass doors or six feet apart in the yard. I'm happy the job is done and they're home," explained Michael Miles, Lucas' father.
Both families, the Wrights and Miles, shared smiles, tears, laughs, and hugs Tuesday night. Miles even joked that all the time he missed with his kids will be made up during the rest of the pandemic, in quarantine.