‘We’ve been holding our breath for a year'
“I’ve got the greatest wife in the world.”
Sgt. Tim Forrester, on Debbie Kruck-Forrester, leader of Ormond Strong
The screams from the crowd almost drowned out the roar of the jet engines as the plane carrying National Guard troops of the 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment arrived March 10 at Daytona Beach International Airport.
“We’re ready to burst into tears at any moment,” said Bonnie Bumb, who was awaiting her son’s arrival after a year of deployment. “It’s been a long, long year.”
Stephen’s wife, Malana, agreed.
“We’ve been holding our breath for a year,” she said.
Also waiting was Debbie Kruck-Forrester, who walked the Granada Bridge every morning since they left, along with members of Ormond Strong, the group she founded to support the troops and build community awareness of their mission.
On one of her last walks with Ormond Strong, she said the troops had been back at Fort Bliss in Texas for a couple of weeks, so she had been talking to her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Tim Forrester, “for hours” after a year of only text messages and email.
While he was gone, she was busy with running her fitness business, as well as spending countless hours on Ormond Strong community projects and taking care of the house in the absence of her husband.
“That’s what you sign up for when you marry a soldier.”
“I didn’t tell him about everything that went wrong, like when I locked myself out of the house,” she said. “He had to worry about staying alive. He was surrounded by people wanting to kill him.”
She said she’s been “burning the candle at both ends,” and now the couple will need some time to get back into a routine.
‘We’ll get to know one another again’
Malana Bumb said she had to take on an extra role, of being both mother and father to their baby, and now they will be getting her husband back into the routine. She said they stayed strong for him, and took care of things so he wouldn’t have to worry about their baby.
“I feel overwhelmed with joy,” she said. “I’ll feel whole again. You don’t feel whole until he’s back.”
Andrea Henige, of Palm Coast, said she felt “lost” when her husband was away, but she knew he had to do his job.
“I was in the military,” she said. “That’s how we met.”
She said it was an adjustment when he left, and it will be an adjustment now that’s he’s back, because she has learned to do do things around the house that he used to take care of.
“We’ll get to know each other again,” she said. “It will be total excitement to see him. I’m filled with all kinds of emotion.”
Noel and Melanie Koeller, of Ormond Beach, welcomed home their son, Specialist Jake Koeller.
They said Ormond Strong was the “best support group ever” and they walked with them whenever they could.
“They became a family,” Melanie Koeller said.
Her son, Jake, said it was nice to have so much support.
“It caught us off guard,” he said. “To see so many people show up … it was humbling.”
Sgt. Forrester agreed it was humbling when the troops would watch videos of Ormond Strong walking in their honor, as well as raising public awareness, arranging letter writing campaigns and sending care packages.
“I’ve got the most wonderful wife in the world,” he said.
At the welcome home ceremony at the airport, Lt. Col. Michael Powers said the care packages and other support the troops received was outstanding. He pointed out that members of the unit who were not deployed did a great job of taking care of the home operations.
In the deployment, the unit operated the Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar Protection System. When an incoming rocket was detected on radar, they would destroy it with the system. Powers said they successfully defended against 70 attacks.
“Nobody was injured or killed from these rocket attacks because of what these guys did,” Powers said.