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Kelly Smith, Published January 08 2009

Soldiers’ return a belated Christmas gift for area families

Santa stopped at Roxanne Roerick’s home two weeks ago, but the presents under the tree remain unopened.

“It’s our first Christmas (as a family), and we’ll just celebrate it a little late,” said Roerick, 32.

The holidays were put on hold until Roerick’s husband, Staff Sgt. Jeff Roerick, could return from serving for four months in Kuwait.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Roericks were one of the many families eagerly awaiting the arrival of 10 North Dakota Air National Guard members at the Hector International Airport in Fargo.

Clutching cardboard signs and mini-American flags, 3-year-old Audrianna Roerick and her 6-year-old brother, Jackson, couldn’t sit still, excited for their stepfather’s return.

“They’ve been good troopers about this,” Roxanne Roerick said.

Holiday traditions weren’t the only events disrupted for the family this year.

The couple were in the midst of wedding planning when they learned Jeff would be deployed.

“I planned a wedding in two weeks,” Roxanne said with a smile. “Everything fell into place.”

Not even a month after the couple eloped, Jeff was on a plane for Kuwait with 25 other airmen from the Fargo-based 119th Wing Civil Engineer Squadron – his first deployment in the National Guard.

“I’m glad it’s over, but I’m glad I did it, too,” he said after hugging his family. He said he looks forward to the little luxuries not allowed overseas. “It will be nice … to go to a restaurant and have a beer.”

It will also be nice to return to life with his new family.

“It’s not that he’s just coming home – it’s a new home,” Roxanne said.

Now, the family is looking forward to celebrating a few belated special occasions.

Christmas comes Friday and then next month, the newlyweds hope to finally celebrate their wedding reception.

Maj. John Gibbs, commander of the 119th Wing, knows the deployments aren’t easy on families.

“It’s very hard during the holidays,” he said, adding a bit of good news: “We don’t expect to deploy as a unit again for three years.”

Three more airmen from the unit will return to Fargo today, while five other Happy Hooligans remaining in Kuwait are expected to return later this month.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515