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Long wait ends

After more than nine months of separation, Rick Raymond knows the first order of business when he sees his son Blake tonight. "Just giving him a big hug, 'Welcome home,' letting him know I love him," said the Superior man. "Just that physical con...

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Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com Spec. Blake Raymond hugs his fiancée Chloe Hagenson goodbye in the parking lot of the Wisconsin National Guard 950th Engineer Company Armory in Superior on Oct. 17. The soldiers return to Superior today after serving eight months in Afghanistan.

After more than nine months of separation, Rick Raymond knows the first order of business when he sees his son Blake tonight.

"Just giving him a big hug, ‘Welcome home,’ letting him know I love him," said the Superior man. "Just that physical contact."

A number of milestones took place while Specialist Blake Raymond was away serving his country in Afghanistan with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 950th Engineer Company. He celebrated his 20th birthday and watched the birth of his son, Liam, via Skype.

"I don’t know who cried more, Blake or Liam," Raymond said.

The thought of meeting his son has kept the soldier going.

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"He has not been able to hold his child yet," Raymond said, and he expects the reunion between Blake, his fiancée Chloe and their son to be emotional.

Danielle Connolly took two days off work to prepare for today’s homecoming, cooking up some of her husband’s favorite dishes - tuna salad, chicken and the fixings for homemade bacon cheeseburger pizza. This is the second deployment for her husband of nine years, Staff Sgt. William Connolly, who also served with the 950th in Iraq.

"I know it’s overwhelming when they first get home," Connolly said, so she plans to let her husband come home and decompress. "We are going to completely wing it. If he wants to sit around in jammies, that’s fine. Whatever Billy wants to do."

Lisa Severson went through the gamut of emotions while her son, Sgt. Spencer Severson, was overseas: Fear for his safety, loneliness because he wasn’t physically around, anxiety when contact became limited and joy when they got to talk to him.

"As the months drew on my confidence in their deployment grew and the fear lessened," she said. "We are very proud of his willingness to protect our country."

Like Connolly, the Severson family plans to follow their soldier’s lead.

"We will do and go where he wants while he re-enters civilian life," Severson said, although a Minnesota Twin’s game is a must.

Members of the 950th left Superior in October last year to take part in route clearance in Afghanistan - searching for and destroying improvised explosive devices. They also provided force protection for a forward operating base and the Kandahar Airfield. Connolly rallied family and friends during the deployment, providing red shirts for them to wear on Fridays in honor of their soldiers serving overseas. Although her family has weathered a previous deployment, each separation is different. This time, they kept in contact through Facebook messenger as they dealt with a death in the family and surgery for Danielle.

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"Little life trials you’d like to have someone with you," said Connolly of Superior. It’s also been hard on their 10-year-old daughter, although she appreciates what her father does.

"She’s always proud to say ‘My dad’s in the Army,’" Connolly said.

The waiting has been worse since Aug. 24, when the 950th Engineer Company returned to the country for demobilization in Texas.

Tonight, the nearly 100 soldiers will return to Superior. Friends and family members are encouraging everyone to show their support by lining up along Hammond Avenue to celebrate.

"These kids need a welcome home," Raymond said. "They’re heroes in every sense of the word. They put their lives on hold, put their lives in danger. They deserve to have the community greet them with open arms."

The bus load of soldiers will get a police escort from the foot of the Blatnik Bridge to the Superior Middle School. Community members can line up along Hammond Avenue from North 28th Street to the school to welcome the company home. The convoy is expected around 6:15 p.m. More information on the celebration is available on the Welcome Home 950th Facebook page.

"I think support from the community is crucial," Connolly said. "I hope we have a really good turn-out."

A network of God, family, friends and church sustained the Seversons as they waited for Spencer’s return.

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"I am very impressed by the way the military has handled this entire deployment," Severson said. "From start to finish there was never a moment where I felt uninformed. Spencer has made many friends from Afghanistan and he has grown into a fine soldier."

For Raymond, the deployment added up to new gray hairs and a lot of sleepless nights.

"That’s all coming to an end," he said.

The homecoming will bring change. After they hug their loved ones and travel home, each soldier will pick up the pieces of a life interrupted. Some will return to jobs or school, others will seek employment. Connolly expects there will be an adjustment period, as she and her husband re-learn their roles. Deployment is tough, but it’s worth it.

"This is his passion, what he really enjoys doing," Connolly said. "I totally would do it again."

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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