After 1 year gone, wife had no patience when her soldier husband returned

Emelyn Willis, 4, hugs her daddy Maj Aaron Willis during a Welcome Home Ceremony Saturday for the Ohio National Guard’s 371st Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Springfield.
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Emelyn Willis, 4, hugs her daddy Maj Aaron Willis during a Welcome Home Ceremony Saturday for the Ohio National Guard’s 371st Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Springfield.

Sheila Dixon jumped into her husband’s arms and wrapped her legs around him in a long embrace that lasted several minutes.

Staff Sgt. Ernest Dixon was among 280 soldiers from Ohio National Guard’s 371st Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Springfield, welcomed home Saturday after a year-long deployment in Southwest Asia.

The Ohio Army National Guard hosted a welcome home ceremony at the First Christian Church on Middle Urbana Road that was attended by local and state leaders, hundreds of family members and community members who filled the church auditorium, its hallways and outside.

Attendees carried signs, banners, balloons, American flags and flowers to greet the members of the brigade, also known as the “Jawbone Warriors.” It is headquartered in Springfield.

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One toddler in a stroller carried a toy truck in one hand and a flag in the other. Even therapy dogs came to greet the soldiers.

Perhaps the most unusual item was a near life-size standup of Command Sergeant Major Scott Barga.

Barga’s spouse, Tami, said his sister made it up to take to her niece’s first communion as a way of keeping Scott there in spirit.

“He’s seen himself in many pictures,” Tami Barga said.

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The Bargas, from Versailles, were eager to go to dinner and take in a showing of the blockbuster film “Black Panther.”

The soldiers marched into the auditorium to thunderous applause with some attendees jumping up and down and standing on seats to see their returnee.

Alexis Jones didn’t have a seat, but stood in a side entrance to catch her husband, Jeff, while struggling to hoist her first-grade and preschool sons, wearing shirts reading “My dad is rad,” to get a better view.

She stayed in the hallway to accommodate her older son Charlie’s medical condition during the ceremony. The deployment didn’t start out well as Alexis and the boys struggled with strep throat as soon as Jeff left.

With no immediate family, just close friends, it was hard not having Jeff to bounce things off of.

“It was a logistical nightmare at first. I prayed every night we wouldn’t get the flu that went through,” she said.

They didn’t. Alexis said she’s been able to do more for herself and gained new skills such as using a power drill.

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Charlie, a budding athlete, is eager for dad to play baseball with him, while 4-year-old brother can’t wait to snuggle with dad as the family has a movie night they huddle together for.

Jeff will also have a project awaiting – helping the boys build a 2,000-piece LEGO pirate ship he sent for Christmas.

“I’m excited because Jeff is such a good dad. It feels like a weight has been lifted,” Alexis said.

The ceremony included comments from state representatives, military leaders and local leaders including Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland and Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes, who had previously deployed to Southwest Asia; he is retired as commander of the 178th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, located in Springfield.

Brigade Commander Col. Gregory J. Betts said he was proud each member of his unit returned safely and for the enthusiastic turnout, Saturday.

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“I can’t tell you how much your support meant to this success. It’s not just the unit that responds to the call, it’s the community too,” he said.

With about 150 Ohio ZIP Codes represented, some soldiers had a unique advantage to serve with family.

Capt. Jason Duly and younger brother 1st Lt. Kevin Duly went through ROTC, basic training and were commissioned together and served their first deployment together.

Kevin joked he still gets picked on as the little brother. It was especially important to have Jason as Kevin’s wife, Meredith, was pregnant with the couple’s first child during the deployment.

“You meet new people but it’s always easier to have a familiar face,” Kevin said.

He was able to take two weeks’ leave last August to see Jackson born. Being able to hold him again was special as Kevin could hardly keep his eyes off the tot.

“Pictures and videos just don’t do it justice,” he said.

Maj. Jason Douthwaite and Lt. Col. Jennifer Douthwaite of West Liberty had the rare opportunity as spouses to serve their deployment together.

Jason smiled about Jennifer outranking him, saying he just salutes her. The pair met in airborne school 21 years ago and will celebrate 18 years of marriage in April.

“The chances are slim to have your spouse with you,” said Jason. “It’s great because you can spend one-on-one time and we can talk about common work things you couldn’t if one of us were civilians.”

The disadvantage was leaving their four children, ages 9-16, but they stayed with their grandparents who live nearby.

The Douthwaites look forward to the kids’ spring break in a few weeks to enjoy a vacation together.