Army nurse, home from Iraq, enjoying freedom
It was while jogging with her mother last week that Army 1st Lt. Deanna Steinmetz realized she was finally home. Here, there are rolling fields instead of an endless sea of desert sand. Here, there are crickets chirping instead of lurking camel spiders as long as a man's arm.
Here, there's no such thing as a mortar attack.
"It's wonderful," Steinmetz said while sitting in the living room of her parents' Bonner Springs home.
The thanks of an appreciative nation greeted Steinmetz as she returned to her native Kansas last week. While getting off a plane in Maine, she and other troops were met by World War II veterans and their wives, who offered the soldiers the use of their cellular telephones to call home.
The reception Steinmetz received later that day was even more impressive. At Famous Dave's restaurant in Wyandotte County, the 24-year-old Army nurse, still dressed in her desert combat uniform, received a standing ovation from patrons. She was also presented with the warm embrace of her parents.
In a ruse, Steinmetz surprised her mother and father, Tom and Debbie Steinmetz, by meeting them at the restaurant. The couple wasn't expecting their daughter for another two to three days and thought they were going to the restaurant for a birthday party.
"I walked around the corner and said, 'Hi, Mom,'" Steinmetz said. "Mom, Dad and Grandma started to tear up."
Since February, Steinmetz has been stationed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, working as a clinical staff and charge nurse, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She said being home offers her the chance to catch up with friends and family as well as her two golden retrievers, Reggie and Gus.
It also affords her the opportunity to have dinner at one of her favorite haunts, Kelley's Bar and Grille in Basehor, and knock down a few cold Boulevard Wheat beers, something she'd been looking forward to for a while now and something accomplished at Famous Dave's last week.
"I changed out of my uniform so I could have a cold beer," she said.
Although for now, she is away from the danger, the brief reprieve for Steinmetz will be just that -- brief. After two weeks at home, she'll be rotated back to Iraq and away from the creature comforts of home, away from the embrace of loved ones.
While she's home, Steinmetz said she plans to visit former teachers at Linwood Elementary School and a class that's written letters to her while she's been overseas. She also wouldn't mind going water skiing, hanging out by the pool and making some old-fashioned apple cider with her parents.
It's activities like these, or more accurately, the freedom to choose, that Steinmetz hopes American forces can deliver to the people of Iraq.
"Overall, the Iraqis are really good and kindhearted people, who just want to move on with their lives," she said. "I pray that their lives will resume some sense of normalcy in the future and that they are able to live without fear."
Until that day comes, though, soldiers such as Steinmetz will be needed in the region.
Leaving for the region is in the back of her mind as she's home with her family this week, she said, just as returning to her family of fellow soldiers is.
"Of course, I'd rather stay here, but my quasi-family is out there too," she said.