Family welcomes soldier home in reprieve from service in Iraq
After a long day of work, Joe Peel simply wanted to see his wife Leanne and their three children.
But he couldn't.
Peel was stationed in Baghdad for six months as part of an infantry brigade combat team. Leanne, along with Torrie, 14, J.D., 12, and Haleigh, 11, live in Tonganoxie. It was Peel's first time being stationed in Iraq.
"One day, he said he needed a hug from home," Leanne said. "So we did the best we could. We bought a white T-shirt and the kids put their handprints on the shirt. Then they wrote, 'I love you, daddy' on the shirt."
It's moments like those that made Peel's August 7 return to America that much more special. He's currently back in Tonganoxie for 18 days of rest and recuperation from the military. Peel has to be back at the airport Aug. 26.
During his 18-day stay, Peel said he would spend the majority of the time with his family. The Peels attended the Leavenworth County Fair last week. Leanne was included in Wednesday's parade from her work at the Tonganoxie Nursing Center.
After the 18 days, Peel said he expected to be in Iraq again for another nine months -- until May 2008.
While he's in Baghdad, Peel is a patrolling officer in the neighborhood streets. The intent is to protect the innocent citizens and seek out the organizations or people who are a threat to peace.
"The people we're putting in jail are bad people who would give everything they own to come over here and hurt innocent people," Peel, 32, said. "These people don't care about women or children. They'll do anything they can to hurt a U.S. citizen or anyone who doesn't have their beliefs."
Peel said citizens and officials in Baghdad have thanked U.S. security forces for their help in the neighborhoods. Various U.S. security forces have worked with Iraqi security forces at checkpoints to make Baghdad communities safer. But Peel can't patrol the streets 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
"When we're patrolling, kids are playing in the neighborhood," Peel said. "But when we leave, the kids hide. They fear for their lives. I do see good changes, but I see it as a hard and long fight."
Domestic support for the U.S. troops in Iraq is encouraging to Peel. Cards, letters and care packages make his days considerably better.
"A lot of people may not politically support what's going on, but that's part of our freedoms," Peel said. "For the most part, people have been really supportive of the soldiers, regardless of whether they support war. I figured after five years, there'd be a loss of support, but I haven't seen it."
Being overseas has put a lot into perspective for Peel.
"People here (in America) take everything for granted, like running water and electricity 24/7," Peel said. "I did it. There are things you just get accustomed to. My daughter was telling me about the flowers blooming and the leaves during springtime. When you're gone, that's something you really miss."
Despite the dangerous situation of working in Baghdad, Peel said the toughest part was not being able to see his family.
There's a phone center where Peel stays. He can also reach his family from the Internet and web cam. In fact, Peel watched Haleigh open presents during her most recent birthday via web cam.
Situations frequently change in Baghdad, though. There are times Peel won't be able to contact Leanne for two weeks.
"It's hard," Leanne said. "I worry about him constantly."
Leanne mentioned that the Family Ready Group (FRG) keeps army wives posted during times of blackout when the soldiers won't be able to contact their families.
"It's a great help," Leanne said. "I can come home from work, check my e-mail and know why I haven't heard from him in seven days."
Peel thought about joining the military 10 years ago, but decided not to because he was starting a family with Leanne. In the past, Peel had served as a volunteer firefighter for Tonganoxie city and township fire departments.
He said he wanted to join the military before he got too old to serve.
"I believe what he's told me about trying to make it better for people over there," Leanne said. "I hear comments every day saying we need to bring soldiers home from Iraq. Being an army wife, I defend them. There are innocent people over there. There are children who need to be raised right. I know we lose men out there and my heart goes out to them. I support my husband. They have a job to do, so I support them."