Family reunited with soldierPublished 6:06am Saturday, October 27, 2012
Three-year-old Karrah Nichols jumps excitedly atop the “twirly slide” at Russellville’s City Lake Park.
She’s staring down at her father, SPC Aaron Nichols, who just returned home last weekend from a nearly one-year tour in Afghanistan with the 115th Expeditionary Signal Battalion.
“I’m sliding down! Watch me!” she squeals before sliding down into her father’s waiting arms.
She beams up at him proudly and them dashes off to the swings, beckoning him to follow her.
It’s moments like these that Aaron Nichols said have been the hardest to miss out on while he’s been serving his country overseas.
Aaron Nichols, 29, joined the Army National Guard at age 17. He was one of the first from the area to be called into service in Iraq when he was just 19.
He said his tour at that time was difficult, but he had no idea how much more difficult it would be for him now that he would be leaving Karrah and his wife, Jessica, behind.
“When I was 19, I was still with my parents and I missed being away from them, but when you have your own little family – a wife and a child – back home that need you, it makes it tough to be gone for so long,” Nichols said.
“When I first left last year, it was bad, but when I came back for my two weeks of ROR in May and was able to spend time with them, I knew what it was going to be like to leave them again. I bawled like a baby getting on that plane.”
Jessica Nichols said the time her husband has been gone has been a difficult thing for all three of them.
“It’s almost like being a single parent at times because he wasn’t here to help with the things that I normally depended on him for,” she said. “And holidays and birthdays – he wasn’t here for those special times and even just the little moments. You just found yourself wishing he was there to see the things he was missing.”
She said she decided to go back to school to get her master’s degree in education, and while she said it helped to pass the time while her husband was away, it also made it harder to juggle all of her responsibilities.
“I had a great support system of family but I didn’t want to always be dependent on them and burn them out,” she said. “It gave me a whole new respect for women who are single moms. It was definitely hard not having Aaron here, especially with Karrah being so young.”
She said Karrah, who was only 2 when her father was deployed last year, has had her ups and downs, but they tried their best to explain to her what was going on.
“Before I left, I showed her on the map where I would be,” Aaron Nichols said. “I taught her how to say Afghanistan, and I told her I would have to be there for awhile.”
Jessica Nichols said technology allowed them to keep in contact with her husband, which helped marginally.
“When he wasn’t on the base, we had to keep in contact by phone and sometimes Facebook and e-mail,” she said. “But the best thing for Karrah was being able to Skype when he was on the base.
“I think actually being able to see him made her realize that she really was talking to her daddy and that made it a little easier.”
Jessica Nichols said once she found out that her husband would be coming home for good this past weekend, she started a countdown with Karrah that made time pass a little easier.
“She was so excited the day we went to get him at the airport,” Jessica Nichols said. “She knew he was far away in Afghanistan and I think at first she thought we were going over there to see him because she went running through the house when I told her we had to leave saying, ‘I have to go pack my bags. We have to go get Daddy.’”
Jessica Nichols said she explained to Karrah that her daddy would already be at the airport when they got there.
Karrah, who had gone back to playing on the slides, perked up and nodded her head.
“I said I was going to give him a big smooch,” she said, grinning from hear to ear and making a kissing sound.
They both laughed and agreed.
“That’s what she said and that’s what she did,” Jessica Nichols said. “She was a little standoffish at first, like she didn’t know if it was real or not, I guess because she was used to seeing him on the screen Skyping.
“She finally warmed up and knew it was really him and then she didn’t want to let him go – not even to go get his bags.”
Aaron Nichols said he knows it’s been a struggle for his family to have him away, but he planned to continue his service with the National Guard and would do what’s needed of him.
“My dad served his country in the Navy and I’ve grown up with a strong love for my country,” he said. “There are many sacrifices that go along with being in the service but it’s something I think is important for me to do, and I’m proud Jessica and Karrah support me.”